Indonesian Court Condemns School Principal to Life Sentence for Raping 13 Students

Arie Firdaus
Indonesian Court Condemns School Principal to Life Sentence for Raping 13 Students Herry Wirawan, 36, a former teacher and founder of an Islamic boarding school, who is accused of raping 13 school girls between 2016 and 2021, looks on from inside a waiting room before his verdict trial at the district court in Bandung, Indonesia, Feb. 15, 2022.
[Antara Foto via REUTERS]

An Indonesian court convicted and sentenced a school principal to life in prison Tuesday for raping at least 13 students, including underage girls, in a case that rekindled public attention on sexual abuse at religious boarding schools in the country.

Defendant Herry Wirawan had destroyed the futures and mental health of the female students whom he victimized at the girls-only Islamic boarding school in Bandung, and whose ages ranged from 14 to 20 years old, a three-judge panel at a local district court ruled.

“The defendant is hereby sentenced to life imprisonment,” Chief Judge Yohannes Purnomo Suryo Adi said in handing down the verdict to the 36-year-old principal, adding that Herry was found to be guilty under Indonesia’s child protection law.

“The defendant as an educator and caretaker of an Islamic boarding school should have protected and guided his underage students so that they could grow and develop, but instead set a bad example and destroyed the growth and future of the children,” Yohanes said during the court session, which was broadcast via YouTube.

The panel also ruled that the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection pay a total of 331 million rupiah ($23,000) as restitution to Herry’s victims and take temporary custody of nine children who were born to them as a result of his actions over a period of five years until 2021.

Prosecutors had sought the death sentence and chemical castration for Herry, saying the heaviest punishment was necessary to deter the recurrence of such crimes. But the judges ruled out castration, saying it was unnecessary because they were condemning the convict 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 against Herry upon finding out that their daughter was pregnant, authorities said. Herry was arrested in May.

The defendant, who wore a black Peci hat and a white short-sleeved shirt, kept silent throughout his sentencing.

Last month, Herry admitted wrongdoing and apologized to his victims as he pleaded for leniency, according to the head of West Java prosecutor’s office, Dodi Ghazali Emil.

“As far as I can tell, he was remorseful, and apologized to the victims and their families and asked for a more lenient sentence,” Dodi said at that time.

The trial was closed to the media.

An attorney for Herry, Ira Mambo, said her client had not yet decided whether to appeal.

“We have seven days to think about it,” she said after Tuesday’s sentencing hearing.

A member of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), Beka Ulung Hapsara, welcomed the judges’ refusal to mete out the death penalty and said that “the right to life is inalienable.”

“This is in line with human rights principles,” Beka said.

The case about the rapes at the school in Bandung, the capital of West Java province, has prompted calls for the Indonesian government and the parliament to speed up passage of a bill for preventing sexual violence.

New cases of alleged sexual abuse at Islamic boarding schools have surfaced since Herry’s arrest.

In the latest case, police last week arrested a 47-year-old teacher in Mamuju, a city in West Sulawesi province, for allegedly sexually assaulting seven female students, local media reported. 

Police took the action after the students told their parents about the alleged abuse.

Last month, 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 here as pesantren.

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

“We are evaluating existing regulations and, in the pesantren law, there are no provisions on supervision,” local media reports quoted him as saying. “Please review so that the government and the public have monitoring access to pesantren.”


Police escort Herry Wirawan, a former teacher and founder of an Islamic boarding school, who is accused of raping 13 schoolgirls at his school, to the court room before the verdict in his trial at the district court in Bandung, Indonesia Feb. 15, 2022. [Antara Foto via REUTERS] 

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.

After a public outcry over a string of sexual attacks against minors in 2016, including the killing of a school 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.

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.

In its latest form, the draft bill recognizes seven forms of sexual violence – forced sexual relations, sexual harassment, forced use of contraceptives, forced sterilization, forced marriage, sexual slavery and sexual torture, according to the Law and Human Rights Ministry.

“It is clear than sexual violence against women and children is still high,” Anak Bintang Puspayoga, the minister for women’s empowerment and child protection said on Friday, according to the state-run Antara news agency.

“We realize the urgency of legislation on sexual violence and therefore the bill’s passage should no longer be delayed,” she said.

An official at the Office of the Presidential Staff said the draft bill would be submitted to the parliament for deliberations soon.  

“We have completed our part,” Jaleswari Pramowardhani told BenarNews.

Meanwhile, a member of the House of Representatives, Willy Aditya, said lawmakers would immediately get down to work once the draft bill had been received.

“It’s crucial. There should be no more delays in deliberating the sexual violence bill,” Willy was quoted as saying by the Media Indonesia news site.


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