The Question of Fairness in Indonesian Judiciary

Asia Pacific
Rule of Law

The Question of Fairness in Indonesian Judiciary


Any person who regularly follows news from the judiciary in Indonesia will find it easy to point out cases with unusual and shocking verdicts, whether the surprise comes in the form of overwhelming or underwhelming sentences.

Even in ‘normal’ cases where the judges are allegedly not bribed, at least to the best of the public’s knowledge, elements of the public may see a verdict as unsatisfying in terms of fairness.

This concept of fairness deserves a more thorough definition. What really constitutes fairness? Would a sentence be fair if it is commensurate to the severity of the defendant’s misdeed? What about the circumstances that lead towards or engender this misdeed? Or would it only be fair if a sentence is meted out in consideration of the degree of loss – lives, material, opportunity, and so on – experienced by the victims, if any? Should we punish those who broke the law for a noble purpose and with no harm to anyone, as in the recently famous case of Fidelis Arie Sudewarto?

Fidelis case

Fidelis, a man from Sanggau, West Kalimantan, grew marijuana to treat his then-ill wife Yeni Riawati. Yeni suffered from syringomyelia, a condition where liquid-filled cysts grew inside her vertebrae.

Fidelis reportedly brought Yeni to see many doctors and tried multiple expensive medicines to no result. Through his own research, Fidelis stumbled upon some literature which suggested using cannabis extract to treat syringomyelia. He tried it and saw significant improvements in his wife’s health, but he was arrested by the local National Narcotics Agency (BNN) officers in February this year. With no more treatment, Yeni passed away 32 days after Fidelis’ arrest.

Fidelis was brought to court and the prosecutors asked for a five-month jail term for him. After a series of trials, he was sentenced on August 2nd to eight months in prison plus a Rp 1 billion fine. Although this sentence is above what the prosecutors demanded, it is also far below the minimum sentence mandated by the relevant law, Article 116 of the Narcotics Law, which spelled out 5 years as the minimum.

As of the writing of this article, it is not yet clear whether Fidelis would appeal his case. Should Fidelis’ intention in planting cannabis be considered in deciding whether this sentence is a fair one? Or should we stick to the law’s writing and say ‘no exception’ to all law breakers?

Corruption cases

In corruption, perhaps Indonesia’s most infamous type of crime, hundreds of corruptors have been receiving relatively light sentences. According to the Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), hundreds of corruptors were sentenced to less than four years in prison, which is the minimum sentence demanded by Article 3 of the Corruption Law. Among 573 corruption verdicts handed out in 2016, 444 or 77% of all those were for less than four years.

“This one of the most prominent problem which we should take note of, corruption verdicts do not give the desired deterrent effect because courts still hand out light sentences to corruptors,” said Aradila Caesar of ICW in March this year.

Other examples of blatantly controversial court verdicts can be easily seen even in Indonesia’s highest court, the Constitutional Court (MK).

Akil Mochtar, former Chief Justice of MK, was arrested by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) in October 2013 for accepting bribes to rule in favour of certain contenders when local election disputes in Central Kalimantan and Banten were handled by his court. Patrialis Akbar, former Justice and colleague of Mochtar, was also arrested by KPK in January 2017 for accepting bribes with regards to cases in MK.


Source: Global Indonesian Voices; Written by: Felix Utama Kosasih