Despite Indonesia’s infamously harsh drug laws and its controversial use of the death penalty to execute drug dealers, many were surprised that government prosecutors showed compassion by only demanding a 5-month prison sentence for Fidelis Arie Sudewarto, a man who was arrested for growing marijuana to help treat his wife’s rare medical condition.
Fidelis’ court case is due to to have its sentencing hearing at the Sanggau District Court in West Kalimantan today, and the National Narcotics Agency (BNN), the law enforcement agency that arrested him back in February, has voiced its disappointment with the prosecution’s sentence demand and are hoping for more despite the unusual circumstances in the case.
“According to Article 111 (of Law no. 35/2009 on Narcotics), growing five (marijuana plants) is already punishable by life in prison,” said BNN Spokesman Sulistiyandriatmoko, as quoted by Kompas yesterday.
“There should be no exceptions. As long as the law remains as it is, then BNN will consistently enforce that law. Anyone who grows (marijuana) plants, we will arrest them and they will be punished according to the law.”
Even though the prosecution only demanded a 5-month sentence, there have been numerous precedents in Indonesia of judges ignores the prosecutor’s’ sentence demand and handing down heavier or lighter sentences.
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).