Monday, December 12, 2016

Indonesia’s justice system goes on trial

Named for the mythological hero who escaped with wings that then melted and brought his death, the “Icarus Paradox” was coined by writer Dennis Miller to describe a failure that results from the very elements that initially led to success.

The latest high-flyer to fall victim is Jakarta’s Christian governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, who today goes on trial today for blasphemy in a crucial test of the historical pluralism of the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

Governor Ahok rose to prominence as a champion of transparency in the notoriously murky world of Indonesian politics. Eschewing the backroom deals and hypocrisy of his peers, Ahok established a strong bond with citizens by being open about the meetings he held, speeches he delivered and activities he conducted.

Now that very same transparency is being used to mollify his angry adversaries with the vow Ahok will face due legal process. 

However, mob rule appears to be swaying this case given that police apparently caved in to the demands of thousands of protesters on December 2 and agreed to charge Ahok with blasphemy. With feelings running high, the safety of witnesses in the trial, which is open to the public and media, is a legitimate cause for concern. 

With the emergence of the mob rule, we cannot be sure of what kind of threats may be faced by the witnesses, especially if the mob demands that Ahok go to prison, no matter what.

Transparency is a crucial trait within democracy. But it can also bring problems if is abused and falls into “the wrong hands”.

To prevent trial by public opinion and the disaster that could ensue for Indonesia’s pluralistic democracy, it is now vital that the chief judge and the media show wisdom and restraint. Indonesia’s justice system will also be on trial this week and we cannot afford for it to be found wanting.

This does not mean that media should be banned from the court; for justice to be done it must be seen to be done. 

We can only hope that Ahok’s trial is not a mere rubber stamp for his imprisonment given the enormous pressures brought to bear by protesters who gathered in their hundreds of thousands for three rallies dubbed “Defending Islam Action” demanding his arrest.

The job of the courts is to seek truth and justice. They must not be used an instrument to achieve political ends.

In the case of Ahok’s trial, transparency is a paradox. It may help satisfy his detractors’ thirst that he be punished. But it might also help prevent justice. 

By Michael Herdi Hadylaya 
The Jakarta Post
Asia News Network

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