Neighborhood chief sentenced to 5 years for stripping and shaming young couple wrongly accused of ‘immorality’

A couple in Tangerang, Indonesia being publicly shamed by villagers after they were caught performing an “immoral act” on November 11, 2017. Photo: Video screencap from Tribunnews.com

Moral vigilantes who publicly shame those they accuse of adultery, premarital sex, or other “immoral acts” (even if such acts were carried out with consent) in Indonesia often go unpunished, so the conviction of a perpetrator in one especially disturbing recent case comes as a welcome exception to the rule — even if the sentence might be lighter than many expected.

Yesterday, the Tangerang District Court sentenced Komarudin, a former chief of a neighborhood (RT) in Cikupa, Tangerang, to five years in prison for his role in a heinous crime. Komarudin, along with with five other co-defendants, was found guilty of assault and violating anti-pornography laws for beating and stripping a young unmarried couple then parading them through the streets of his neighborhood because they thought the two were engaging in premarital sex.

The horrifying act of “moral vigilantism,” which took place on Nov. 11, was filmed by some of the perpetrators and guilty bystanders and the videos quickly went viral online, eventually leading police to arrest the suspects. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the clips are the young woman’s terrified pleas for mercy that Komarudin and his co-defendants gleefully ignored as they ripped off her clothes.

During a hearing last week, Komarudin burst into tears as he begged the judges to show leniency, saying that he has to provide for his family. That seems to have swayed the judges to give him a lighter five-year sentence than the seven years demanded by prosecutors in yesterday’s sentence hearing.

“Factors that supported the defendant is his having a family and small children,” said head judge Muhammad Irfan as he read out Komarudin’s sentence in court yesterday, as quoted by Kompas.

Four of the co-defendants were sentenced to three years each for the same crime, while one was sentenced to one year and six months.

Komarudin and the co-defendants have one week to appeal the court’s decision.

The incident on Nov. 11 began in the evening, when people in Komarudin’s neighborhood saw the male victim entering the female victim’s house. According to the police, he was only bringing food over to his fiance’s house when it was raided by the group of men and they were forced to say they had been intimate out of wedlock after being assaulted by the vigilantes.

As shown in the videos, the visibly distressed couple were then forced outside onto the street by the men, who continued to berate them for being indecent. While the woman had a T-shirt on at the beginning of the video, the men soon forcefully stripped her completely naked, despite her ear-piercing screams for mercy. The couple were also beaten on several occasions as they were paraded 400 meters — an ordeal which lasted for about an hour.

Police said that the vigilantes also deliberately took photos and recorded the public humiliation so that they could post them online, in violation of Indonesia’s pornography laws.

Authorities told the media that the couple were given psychological counseling for their trauma. They also got married less than two weeks after the incident – they had already been engaged before but had not set a wedding date –  which police said would hopefully help “alleviate” their trauma (its not clear if the couple chose to got married so soon after or if they were pressured into it).

Parades of shame for adulterers or anyone found getting intimate outside of wedlock are sadly common in parts of Indonesia, especially in rural areas, and the abusers often escape any criminal charges. In August, a couple who had allegedly committed adultery were paraded through the streets of a village in East Java, only for the police to charge the man for adultery but not the neighborhood busybodies who abused the couple.

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