Indonesian man who grew marijuana to treat his dying wife sentenced to 8 months

Fidelis Arie Sudewarto with his two children and one of the judges in his case. Photo:  LBH Masyarakat‏ (@LBHMasyarakat) / Twitter
Fidelis Arie Sudewarto with his two children and one of the judges in his case. Photo: LBH Masyarakat‏ (@LBHMasyarakat) / Twitter

The trial of Fidelis Arie Sudewarto, the man who was arrested in February for growing several marijuana plants to help treat his dying wife’s rare medical condition, reached its conclusion today with the panel of judges sentencing him to 8 months in prison plus a fine of Rp 1 billion or an additional month in prison.

The sentence was heavier than the 5 months requested by the prosecution but is still extremely light compared to the life sentence that the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) argued was necessitated by Indonesia’s draconian drug laws.

In justifying the verdict, the panel of judges, chaired by Achmad Irfir Rohman, said that they had to weigh several different factors.

“In deciding, the judges considered three elements, namely jurisprudence, sociological and philosophical, all three must be balanced in proportion,” Irfir said as quoted by Kompas.

Although the judges agreed that Fidelis had knowingly violated the law, they found that he had done so without any intent to harm his wife or others.

It is not uncommon in Indonesia for judges to hand down heavier sentences than demanded by the prosecution.The widowed father of two and his legal team have not yet announced whether they would be appealing the verdict.

The 36-year-old widowed father of two and his legal team have not yet announced whether they would be appealing the verdict.

Fidelis was arrested on February 29 after BNN officers found that he had been grown 39 marijuana plants.

According to his own account and that of his family, Fidelis was growing the illegal plants to treat his wife Yeni, who was suffering from an extremely rare and painful disease called syringomyelia. After local doctors were unable to help him and exhausting many other options, Fidelis came across information online that said cannabis could be used as an analgesic to alleviate syringomyelia sufferers’ pain. He then made the decision to start growing some marijuana plants himself, which he then processed and gave to his wife for her treatment at home.

“After trying [the marijuana] there was an apparent healing effect. At first, she (Yeni) did not want to sleep for days, but after drinking the [marijuana] extract she began sleeping soundly. At first she did not want to eat, but afterwards her appetite increased. She also began to speak again and was able to defecate with ease,” said Yohana, Fidelis’ sister, as quoted by Tribun.

But BNN caught wind of Fidelis’ illegal treatments and  arrested him at his home. Following his arrest and detention, Yeni stopped taking her cannabis treatment and her condition worsened.

Sadly, she eventually succumbed to her disease and passed away, 32 days after her husband’s arrest.

Fidelis said he never used the marijuana himself and his drug tests came out negative. No evidence was found that he sold the illegal substance to others either.

While the story of his quest to help his dying wife by any means necessary led many to call for him to be freed or given a lenient punishment, BNN officials initially suggested he could be sentenced up to 20 years for his crimes. BNN Chief Budi Waseso even said the death penalty should be considered for Fidelis’ case (others have been sentenced to death for marijuana-related crimes in the past).

The 8-month sentence given to Fidelis, while still harsher than what his supporters or even the prosecution had hoped for, could still be considered a merciful one. And considering the sympathy and public support Fidelis earned throughout his case, supporters of the legalization of medical marijuana in Indonesia should also see this sentence as an opening to at least get a serious discussion on the issue going, in the hopes that others like Fidelis’ wife need not suffer needlessly in the future.

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