For a country plagued by corruption, many in Indonesia have long called for harsher punishments against corrupt politicians. One high-ranking official has revived the topic with one of the boldest statements on the matter, even if it may imply the deaths of his former colleagues.
In a seminar today, Deputy Justice and Human Rights Minister Edward Omar Sharif Hiariej spoke about last year’s graft arrests of former Fisheries Minister Edhy Prabowo and former Social Affairs Minister Juliari P Batubara. Edhy was arrested in November on suspicion of receiving bribes related to lobster larvae exports, while Juliari was arrested in December for alleged embezzlement of COVID-19 relief funds.
According to Edward, since both allegedly committed their crimes in the time of the COVID-19 national emergency, the cabinet ministers deserve the ultimate punishment for corruption.
“To me, they deserve to be indicted with Article 2 Verse 2 of the Corruption Crimes Law, which allows for the consideration of the death penalty [for special circumstances],” Edward said.
After the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) arrested Juliari, the anti-graft body came under criticism for not including Article 2 Verse 2 when charging the former social affairs minister. The verse allows prosecution to seek the death penalty against a corrupt official under “special circumstances,” which many argue should be interpreted to include stealing from disaster relief funds.
Instead, both Juliari and Edhy may face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Responding to Edward’s statement, KPK said it may consider the death penalty in extreme circumstances but would need irrefutable evidence to evoke Article 2 Verse 2 in the cases of Juliari and Edhy.
Capital punishment still very much exists in Indonesia, as death penalty remains the maximum punishment for crimes such as premeditated murder and drug trafficking. Indonesia has particularly been criticized on the international stage for executing drug traffickers — most of whom were foreigners — in recent years.
By comparison, punishment for corruption is relatively more lenient. Former House Speaker Setya Novanto, who was found guilty in one of the country’s biggest corruption scandals which resulted in US$170 million disappearing from state coffers, was sentenced to only 15 years in prison. The heaviest ever sentence for corruption in Indonesia was life imprisonment for former Constitutional Court Chief Justice Akil Mochtar, who was found guilty of accepting bribes to issue favorable verdicts in local election disputes.