Indonesian Prosecutors Seek Death Sentence for School Owner Accused of Raping Students

Ronna Nirmala
Indonesian Prosecutors Seek Death Sentence for School Owner Accused of Raping Students Indonesians protest against sexual harassment and violence against women on university campuses, outside the Ministry of Education and Culture in Jakarta, Feb. 10, 2020.

Indonesian prosecutors on Tuesday sought the death penalty for an Islamic boarding school owner accused of raping at least a dozen students since 2016, in a case that has grabbed national headlines.

The prosecution also requested that the court order Herry Wirawan, the 36-year-old founder of an Islamic boarding school in West Java province, to be chemically castrated and pay compensation of 331.5 million rupiah (U.S. $23,000) to his alleged victims.

The sentence request came as the parliament is set to deliberate on a stringent sexual violence bill that has been delayed due to Muslim groups’ opposition.

“We find that the defendant’s action is a very serious crime,” prosecutor Asep Nana Mulyana told journalists after the hearing at the Bandung district court.

“We are seeking the death penalty for the chief prosecutor defendant to demonstrate our commitment to deter … such crimes.”

According to local media reports, at least eight babies were born to the victims, whose ages ranged from 14 to 20, as a result of the defendant’s alleged actions since 2016.

Herry’s lawyers are expected to respond to the prosecution request during his next court appearance scheduled for Jan. 20. The trial that began in December has been closed to the public from the start.

Chief Prosecutor Asep said Herry used his position as the founder and caretaker of the Islamic boarding school to prey on his victims.

“The defendant used religious symbols to manipulate, and as a justification, for his evil deeds,” Asep said.

The prosecutor also asked the court to dissolve and order the sale of the school and a foundation set up by the defendant, so the funds received could be used to support the victims and their children, said a statement from his office.

The alleged incidents came to light last year after a victim’s parents filed a complaint with police against Herry upon learning their daughter was pregnant, police said.

Herry was arrested in May and has since been in police custody in Bandung.

Bill against sexual violence

After a public outcry over a string of sexual attacks against minors in 2016, including the killing of a school student on Sumatra Island, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo introduced an emergency bill allowing new punishments, including chemical castration and/or the death penalty for child-sex offenses.

Since then, deliberations on the bill have been delayed because of opposition from Islamic groups who argue that it promotes promiscuity. Additionally, conservative lawmakers want the bill to include prohibitions on extramarital sex and homosexual relations.

A watered-down version of the bill released in August recognizes five forms of sexual violence – forced sexual relations, sexual harassment, forced use of contraceptives, forced abortion, and sexual exploitation – as opposed to nine in the original draft.

Jokowi last week called on the parliament to pass this bill, which seeks to prevent all forms of sexual violence, including marital rape, and gives more rights to victims.

“I hope that the bill on sexual violence will soon be passed, so that it can provide maximum protection for victims of sexual violence in the country,” Jokowi said. 

Meanwhile, House Speaker Puan Maharani said the bill would be part of the parliament’s agenda for deliberations next week.

The drafting of the sexual violence bill has been completed, Puan told parliament on Tuesday.

Moeldoko, the president’s chief of staff who goes by a single name, said the government would consult the public during parliament’s deliberations.

“We will solicit ideas … from members of civil society and take stock of problems,” he said in a statement.

Opposition Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) member Mardani Ali Sera said his faction would vote for the bill provided it prohibits extramarital sex and same-sex relations.

“PKS supports it as long as it does not promote free sex. We are opposed to both sexual violence and sexual liberalism,” Mardani told reporters.

“There must be a legal umbrella that protects our culture. Extramarital sex is wrong, either with coercion or with consent.”

Thousands of sexual violence cases

Activists have said that women are often blamed despite being victims of sexual violence. At least 8,800 cases of sexual violence occurred between January and November 2021, according to the Women Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry.

In November, three gender rights activists – Sharyn Davies, Alegra Wolter and Dédé Oetomo – wrote in the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs that the revised bill against sexual violence offers little protection for survivors of sexual violence.

“Law enforcement officers can do very little to support victims, and this just perpetuates the terrible position victims are put in,” they wrote.

“The revised bill also provides little to ministries or institutions to support survivors. Governments are not mandated to support victims and there are no regulations forcing them to support victims.”

Despite their concerns, the writers supported the bill.

“Its passing will become the first step in ensuring the safety of citizens in their own country,” they said.


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