The Novel Baswedan case: Justice that may never come

Illustration: IO/Agung

IO, Jakarta“Many go on the wrong path, but they remain at ease because many colleagues join them in taking the wrong path. Have the courage to be right even when standing alone.” Baharuddin Lopa, former Attorney General, said this in order to show that not many people are willing to fight to uphold truth and justice in our motherland. Indonesia is blessed by having Novel Baswedan, a tough and upright senior investigator of the Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi – “KPK”), but it seems that we simply take our blessings for granted.

On Tuesday, 11 April 2017, Novel was splashed in the face with acid by two men speeding by on a motorcycle. Just as he was walking back home after doing the Subuh (dawn) daily prayer at Masjid Jami’ Al Ihsan, nearby his residence, Kelapa Gading, North Jakarta. The acid struck Novel him all over his face and it happened so suddenly that he didn’t have time to evade it – let alone see who did it. Nobody was on site when the attack took place. The acid attack injured both his eyes. Now, more than 500 days since the acid attack occurrence, we still don’t know who did it.

The Novel Baswedan case remains unresolved, despite mounting evidence and witnesses – unlike several other cases that were quickly investigated and the perpetrators arrested. For example, Dyann Kemala Arrizqi was accused of slander in relation to remarks made of former People’s Representative Council (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat – “DPR”) Chairman Setya Novanto. Or perhaps the hate speech case, where Ustadz Zulkifli Muhammad Ali became a suspect. Even investigation of heavy cases like the trading of young women into prostitution in China rooted out suspects. This last case occurred on 27 June 2018, and 4 suspects were named by September 2018. This difference in case resolution raises the question, “Will we ever find out the truth about Novel Baswedan’s case?”

Intention to Cover-up
In a special interview with Independent Observer at his home in Kelapa Gading, North Jakarta, on Tuesday, 6 November 2018, Novel Baswedan discussed many things. He specifically started with the current condition of his eyes, later on expressed his hope that we quickly find the people who did this to him.

Novel Baswedan describes his eyes’ current condition: “The doctors have not determined further treatment for my right eye, so now I rely only on my left eye to see. I can see through my right eye, but it blurs. My left eye can see again after operations. The field of vision is smaller, but clearer and I can read using it. Now my left eye is slightly covered, it’s usually open wider than this. This is because the tissue grafted on it continues to grow. The left eye’s corneal tissue turned white from being damaged. It’s being replaced with tissue from another part of my body, i.e. from my gums. The gum tissue is being grown out in the eye. This growth is actually good because it shows that the tissue lives, but the growth must not cover the lens. That will be cut off if it closes again, in Singapore. The growth makes it necessary to initially have it extracted every 2 weeks. When the growth steadies, operations are to be held monthly, then once every 1.5 months, then every 2 months, and now once every 3 months,” he said.

Even now, Novel still has no idea when his eyes will come back to normal, if ever, especially since there has been no exact treatment found for his right eye. “Corneal damage due to chemicals like what my eyes suffer is always the worst kind of damage. The best way to heal my eyes would probably be the procedure done on my left eye, the Osteo-odonto Keratoprosthesis (“OOKP”) operation. Tissue is planted on the eye and operations done later on. We are still monitoring the condition of my right eye and do nothing for now; we let it stabillize first,” he said.

Novel suspects that the fact that his case contains no development even after 500 days to be deliberate. “I have submitted my personal report and analysis 4 months after the attack. By that time, I was already able to make my conclusion based on the evidence, suspicions, and available facts. I actually was informed that the case will not be processed seriously within 2 weeks to a month after the attack,” he said.

Novel can come to a conclusion about his case because he sees many indicators. First, he suspects the involvement of deviant high-level police officials, because of the slowness in handling his case. Second, important pieces of evidence, such as CCTV tapes from homes nearby Novel’s home, were never retrieved. Police investigators stated that they have retrieved 100 CCTV tapes, but they are mostly alibi tapes of the people suspected to be the perpetrator. “Think about it: why would police investigators seek to prove the alibi of the persons of interest, like a lawyer would? If it’s the perpetrators’ lawyers, I can understand the motivation. After 3 months have passed, they could no longer retrieve the CCTV. Furthermore, they claim that there were no fingerprints found on the pieces of the glass containing the acid used in the attack. I was also informed that witnesses were intimidated. I would be a fool to remain trusting after all these pieces of evidence,” he said.

From the facts that he found, Novel concluded that deviant police officers are involved in his case – and perhaps some other major forces. “I think that the police officers higher-up in charge of my investigation got scared. If they are, I can understand why. After all, we all know that chiefs of police are easily replaced and political powers can affect the position of these officials. I perfectly understand this,” he said.

Novel further believes that the police are afraid because there are political interventions behind all this. “At least that’s what I think. Come on, how come they cannot solve this kind of case with all their equipment and investigators? We even discovered many witnesses who saw the perpetrators later – 5 of them,” he said. Novel said that he can guess who might intervene with his case so that it remains unresolved even now.

“I think I know who intervenes with my case, but I cannot say it. I know who it is, I could have stated it if I want to, but I chose not to say it for the sake of everyone’s good,” he said. “I can’t just blatantly go public with what I know, because these people might twist my words around to criminalize me. I must be aware of this. Furthermore, I have reported to the National Commission on Human Rights (Komisi Nasional Hak Asasi Manusia – “Komnas HAM”) in April or May, and Komnas HAM still has not concluded investigations even now. Earlier, Komnas HAM planned on issuing the results at the end of July, or in August at the latest, but nothing has come out so far. I know that Komnas HAM is being interfered with. That’s just how things are,” he said.

Novel was naturally attacked in order to discourage him from continuing his investigation of several major cases. “It’s the accumulation of several cases. However, I don’t want to go public, because it would not turn out well. My team of lawyers should have completed a sufficiently detailed report on these facts discovered during our investigation. They might want to publish it, I just don’t know when. Maybe they’re waiting for results from the Komnas HAM,” he said. Yet he feels no fear: “What else do I have to fear? Even on my way home from Singapore I received death threats. Not to mention anonymous letters being sent about people wanting to kill me. But why should I be afraid? I should only be afraid if I were doing something wrong, I simplify my thoughts then,” he reiterated firmly.

Terror at KPK
Novel admits that he is not the only one among KPK staff to be attacked. He was just the extreme insident. “Several of us have been kidnapped earlier, more than 3 people. They remain traumatized until now. If such attacks are allowed, perpetrators would become bolder. This also adds burden to KPK workers who try to do their work properly, and that has bad effect in the eradication of corruption. This should be the Government’s concern. Does the Government really allow such cruel psychological burden to remain as an obstacle to its apparatus when fighting against corruption? This should never happen. The Government must help out, because the agenda of corruption eradication must come from the Government,” he said. “None of KPK’s terrorized permanent staff comes from the police. This is because the terror is ordered by several higher police officials, and KPK has the evidence. It was during an investigation process and the evidence was clear and comprehensive. These KPK workers were not terrorized when they were simply walking down a street, but when they were working. only God knows whether these attacks were related to cases involving high police officials themselves, or if these officials were doing a favor for others, but in any case, we cannot let it slide, we need to investigate it. I am not in a position to punish anyone, but any attack against anyone must be brought out into the light.”

Novel regrets the fact that the terror cases his colleagues suffered are not reported to the authorities. “It’s true that higher police officials and leaders know of these cases, because the perpetrators are deviant police officers. The issue here is, we really should first take the formal step of reporting. The other option is a bad choice, no matter what the reason. We can’t keep on being held back by our fears, we can’t let fear override our reason. Especially for KPK leaders – bowing down to fear is simply the worst choice of all. Among a leader’s responsibilities is to protect their subordinates. The best way of protecting them is by taking the formal step every time one of us gets attacked, by reporting any and all attacks to the police,” he said.

Police Professionalism In Question
Mudzakir, Criminal Law Expert from Islamic University of Indonesia in Yogyakarta, considers Novel Baswedan’s case to be a test of the Police’s courage and professionalism. “They fail the test, because with such a long grace period the legal process becomes known. On the contrary, they have allowed the trail to get cold. This is a failure of professionalism for the Police,” he said.

Mudzakir further stated that such unsolved cases indicate that Novel Baswedan has been investigating major corruption cases. “There are two types of major cases: one, they involve people in high positions, or two, the value of the assets being corrupted is so big that Novel becomes the primary target,” he said. This is worsened by the fact that Novel is an honest, persistent, and risk-taking investigator.

Indonesia Corruption Watch (“ICW”)’s Political Corruption Division Coordinator, Donal Fariz, said that investigation of Novel Baswedan’s case has not shown any significant progress after 500 days. No significant progress on Police investigations on one hand, and lack of Government attention to the handling of the case on the other hand. “We can make a simple comparison. We know that Pak Jokowi visits the same project many times, usually up to 5-6 times, to ensure its progress. How come Pak Jokowi does not pester anyone for results? On the contrary, he simply relies on the abilities of the Police to resolve the case. The Police as an institution would naturally never say that they are   unable to resolve the case. Therefore, there must be more steps to follow up, because 500 days is a long time for any case to remain without any significant progress,” he said.

In fact, even as he rests the resolution of the case on the abilities of the Police, the President did not ask Novel about the case nor did he ever ask to meet Novel in person. “I have become even more convinced that there is no attention from the Government at all,” Donal Fariz said.

A different view is espoused by Indriyanto Seno Adji, Legal Observer and former KPK commissioner. He believes that Novel Baswedan’s case remains unresolved not because there are high officials of the State involved in it, but because it is a controversial issue and the legal proving of the evidence and witness testimonies simply take a long time to perform.

The President’s Role
Because he sees that the case is not progressing, Novel finally asked the President for help. “Therefore, it is incorrect if any official under the President should say that we should not go to the President “simply to solve any little thing”. That’s either because he is ignorant, or because the President himself ask him to say that,” he said.  Novel further said that he requested the President’s help because he notes that the President has the necessary and sufficient supporting agencies to resolve his case.

“The President has more than just the Police as his apparatus. He also has the National Intelligence Agency (Badan Intelijen Nasional – “BIN”). It’s impossible that BIN is incapable of this, especially since the Chief of BIN is a retired police officer. It’s impossible that the Chief of BIN doesn’t want to resolve this case. This is the unfinished task. If the Chief of BIN refuses, the President still has the Strategic Intelligence Agency (Badan Intelijen Strategis – “BAIS”). The President has many other apparatuses for everything, how come the State could be defeated by something like this,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that the President hands over this case to the Police. Isn’t that funny? That’s the problem right there.”

Novel feels that it is only natural that he should request the President to establish a Fact-finding Team (Tim Pencari Fakta – “TPF”). “When the President fails to do that, I am concerned that the President does not support the resolution of this case. Or if the President is aware of these facts, it seems that allowances are made, and that’s bad,” he said.

Novel hopes that the President is not being pressured to leave the case alone. “I hope and pray that it’s not true, but it’s odd that the President fails to respond. KPK’s Chairman has also reported this to the President. I have also made statements to several people during several opportunities, and I am sure that the President would end up hearing about it. What I fail to understand is this: what are the risks of establishing a TPF? How come there is such resistance and fear? There is no risk in finding out the truth, but getting involved in a conspiracy risks one getting caught,” he laughed.

Novel believes that it is not hard to establish a TPF. In fact, it actually helps the Police’s performance. “TPF would never take over the investigation. TPF investigates, then submits the results to the Police,” he said.

The TPF should be comprised of credible and independent elements. “It’s fine if there are elements from Police, after all not everybody in the Police is corrupt. There are many fine, upstanding officers. We can see from the way they speak – if they say something untrue, or if they seem to be covering up for something, they would destroy their own personal credibility,” he reasoned.

Terror related to corruption cases is not unusual, it also happens in other countries. The difference is that foreign Governments take action to resolve it, for example Malaysia with the 1MDB case. “We let such things slide in Indonesia. The Government is responsible for responding to the case. What is amazing is when something like this happens and there is a lack of response. It would be an unfinished task related to the relevant government that is written in history for eternity,” he said.

Novel asks only that the Government be accountable. Whatever the Government does, whether taking action or not, will be recorded in history. “Surely the President does not want to leave a bad record. Therefore, he should make his choice carefully. If he does not understand what happens, I can explain to him. But really, surely the President can comprehend the importance of this case. He has such smart staff, it’s impossible that he fails to grasp the situation. What I’m saying is that I worry the President gets spooked, as it would be a black mark against him for eternity,” he said. “There are huge forces at work here. After all, it’s related to corruption. Are they behind the President, are they an economic force, a legal force, other forces? I worry that the President is scared because it would affect the Presidential Elections, affect the votes etc. Ironic, as doing good deeds is never wrong and would cause no losses. On the other hand, if he allows bad things to happen, I am sure that it will have a bad effect on him. The President should simply do good deeds – it’s as simple as that.”

Personally, Novel is ready to let things go, because his intent is to fight for the truth and this is a risk that he has to face. “But if this is not resolved, if he allows things to slide, it means that President Jokowi has created a very dark stain in the history of his career as President. This is a bad show for him. Furthermore, attacks against other KPK staff are not being investigated, checked, or something, this is also a stain. We can even say that the Government does not support the eradication of corruption. Why so? It allows people who do this kind of things to remain free,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mudzakir regrets the fact that the President does not seriously pressure police investigators to quickly resolve these cases, such as by giving them a deadline. If the target is not achieved by deadline, then punishment should be imposed, such as decommissioning the relevant investigator or the Chief of Police. Unfortunately, there seems to be no intent heading that way. Without intent, there is no target. In the end, there is little potential for finding out the perpetrators.

The President raises eyebrows and questions. The President stated that he is unwilling to interfere with law enforcement, while all law enforcement processes must be accountable to the President. “If the President gets serious, the case would not be too difficult to solve. After all, Novel only does one type of investigation, i.e. corruption case investigations. Therefore, we need only review the cases he was working on. But that depends on the investigation, is it going to get serious or not? Therefore, we return to the executive chief. If the President intervenes for the sake of effectiveness and efficiency so that the perpetrators are discovered, it is only right. After all, the President is also responsible for the performance of law enforcement, as the superior official who appoints the Chief of Police is the President,” Mudzakir said.

Mudzakir further said that TPF-Fact finding team is necessary if the Police waves a white flag in surrender. These cases are then returned to the President, who then establishes the TPF. “We can’t put police officers in the team, because it must be absolutely independent,” he said.

Mudzakir said that the fact that Novel’s case remains unsolved is a cause of concern. However, if it is fully resolved, the people would then dare to expose more cases involving both central and regional officials. “We can cause a good domino effect with this. However, if it remains unsolved, people would think, “The president can’t even do something about a case as bad as Novel’s.” That’s the message the public is going to get,” he said. If the President wishes to improve his image in relation to the eradication of corruption, the case must be completely resolved, even though law enforcement has failed to do so for 500 days.

Indriyanto Seno Adji stated that the lack of intervention to the case is because the legal process continues business as usual. However, there are obstacles in the proving of this case. The President really is not in a position to intervene with these processes. So far, it is enough that the Novel Baswedan case be entrusted to the Police as formal law enforcement, unless the Police opens the opportunity for the public to contribute to the resolution of the case. “Therefore, I do not think that forming a TPF is not the best solution for resolving the case. The Komnas HAM has also formed a team for the same purpose. The establishment of several teams would cause conflicts and overlap due to the inherent subjectivity of the agencies’ perceptions and opinions,” he said.

Donal Fariz believes that President Jokowi’s responses are essentially always to “give the Police a chance”. There should be some indicators for measuring the performance of case resolution. It really should not take as long as this. “Political will” is also one of the indicators of performance. After all, the DPR frequently insinuated that some cases “remain unsolved for years”. “So how come the Police is never questioned about Novel’s case? I should say that the political will of the State’s elites is very weak. This is clearly shown in the President’s persistent refusal to respond to Novel’s requests relating to his case,” he said.

The Police must resolve the case to prove that the accusation and suspicion of higher officials’ involvement. Enforcing the truth would naturally carry its own risk, and all countries face different challenges and dynamics. “If Jokowi’s Government cannot resolve this case, it would be an unfinished task for the President – a moral and political burden. The moral burden is because the President once made an official, public statement in the form of a Tweet that this case must be resolved. The political burden involves people questioning the protection for the law enforcement officers of this country,” said Donal Fariz. (Dessy Aipipidely, Ekawati, Syahrullah)