Indonesian court sentences school principal to death for raping students

Arie Firdaus
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Indonesian court sentences school principal to death for raping students Islamic boarding school principal Herry Wirawan (center), is escorted by security officers during his original sentencing hearing in Bandung, Indonesia, Feb. 15, 2022.

An Indonesian appeals court sentenced an Islamic boarding school principal to death Monday for raping at least 13 students, granting the prosecutors’ appeal for a harsher punishment than a lower court’s life sentence.

The Bandung High Court judges said Herry Wirawan had caused suffering to the victims and tarnished the reputation of Islamic boarding schools.

“We hereby sentence the defendant to death,” chief judge Herri Swantoro ruled. “The defendant’s actions have caused trauma and suffering to the victims and their parents.”

The court also ordered the seizure of Herry’s assets to be used to compensate the victims, whose ages ranged from 14 to 20 at the time of the assaults, and pay for the education of their children.

On Feb. 15, a district court panel sentenced Herry to life in prison and ordered the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection to take temporary custody of nine children who were born to his victims between 2016 and 2021.

Following the High Court ruling, Herry’s attorney, Ira Mambo, declined to comment, saying she and her client had not received the official court document. Herry can appeal the sentence in the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Mohammad Choirul Anam, a member of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), questioned the harsher sentence.

“Komnas HAM always rejects the death penalty because it is not in accordance with human rights principles,” Anam told BenarNews.

Prosecutors had sought the death penalty and chemical castration for Herry, saying the harshest punishment was necessary to deter the recurrence of such crimes. But the lower court judges ruled against castration, saying it was unnecessary because they were condemning him to spend the rest of his days behind bars.

The rapes at the boarding school in Bandung came to light last year after a victim’s parents filed a complaint with police after learning their daughter was pregnant, authorities said.

Herry was arrested in May 2021. He admitted wrongdoing and apologized to his victims during his trial.

His case prompted calls for the Indonesian parliament to speed up passage of a bill to prevent sexual violence. Still, new complaints of alleged sexual abuse at Islamic boarding schools like Herry’s in Bandung, the capital of West Java province, have surfaced since his arrest.

In January, Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Zainut Tauhid Sa’adi said President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was concerned about cases of sexual abuse in Islamic boarding schools, traditionally known as pesantren.

Zainut called on parliament to review the law on pesantren passed in 2019 to allow tighter monitoring. 

Bill under deliberation

In 2016 following outcry over a string of sexual attacks against minors, including the killing of a student on Sumatra Island, Jokowi introduced an emergency decree in lieu of law on child protection. It allowed new punishments, including chemical castration and/or the death penalty, for child-sex offenses.

In parliament, deliberations on a separate bill on sexual violence have been delayed partly because of opposition from Islamic groups in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country who argue that it promotes promiscuity. Additionally, conservative lawmakers want the bill to include prohibitions on extramarital sex and homosexual relations.

On Monday, the Republika daily reported that a committee working on the draft bill had agreed to recognize eight forms of sexual violence – physical sexual harassment, non-physical sexual harassment, forced use of contraceptives, forced sterilization, forced marriage, sexual slavery, sexual torture and online sexual harassment.

Activists have said women and girls 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.


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