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Indonesia boy found guilty, freed amid sandals furor

By Kathy Quiano, CNN
January 5, 2012 -- Updated 1020 GMT (1820 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Indonesia's Child Protection Commission decries verdict Wednesday
  • Commission notes that sandals presented in court were not policeman's
  • Campaign kicked off last month to donate sandals in protest
  • They were meant for policeman who accused boy of theft

Jakarta, Indonesia (CNN) -- A local court has set free a teenage boy after finding him guilty of stealing a policeman's sandals in a case that caused furor among Indonesians frustrated with perceived injustices against the poor and defenseless.

The 15-year-old could have spent five years in jail for the alleged offense. He is accused of stealing the sandals from a boarding house where the cop was staying in November 2010 but was brought to trial only last month.

Indonesia's Child Protection Commission decried the verdict on Wednesday, noting that the sandals presented as evidence in the court did not belong to the policeman, a fact he affirmed in court.

The Commission's secretary, Muhammad Ihsan, said in a statement to CNN, "This verdict is controversial and it hurts people's hearts. The court could not prove it, but they still gave him a guilty verdict. To be on the safe side, the boy was returned to his parents. But the verdict will be a life-long scar on the boy because he will always be considered a sandal thief.

"The judge took a safe stand between pressure between two sides, pressure from the police and prosecutor, and pressure from the public and the media. This is a country with a thousand faces," the commission said.

To protest the charges against the boy, a campaign to gather a thousand flip-flops began on December 28. Students, teachers, construction workers, public transport drivers and lawyers among others dropped off pairs of sandals at centers set up around the country.

"Two high school students came here, took off the sandals they were wearing and walked home barefoot," said Budhi Kurniawan, of the non-governmental organization SOS Children's Villages and who helped start the campaign after hearing about the case.

A donated flip-flop bears the name of 1st Brig. Ahmad Rusdi, the policeman who accused a boy of stealing them.
A donated flip-flop bears the name of 1st Brig. Ahmad Rusdi, the policeman who accused a boy of stealing them.

"We came up with the idea of a thousand sandals which we see as being the symbol of resistance also as compensation for the sandals that was allegedly stolen," Kurniawan said.

The sandals were intended for the policeman who lost his pair "so he doesn't have to buy another pair for the rest of his life," Kurniawan added.

The response was overwhelming. About 1,300 pairs of used and brand new sandals were collected, as calls to donate spread through BlackBerry Messenger, Facebook and Twitter.

Organizers had earlier said the campaign would end only when the boy was acquitted.

To express disappointment over the verdict, the sandals would be given to different government institutions instead, Kurniawan said on Thursday -- namely the national police, the attorney general's office, the Supreme Court, the Justice and Human Rights Ministry and juvenile detention centers.

The boy's parents are also considering an appeal, he added.

Before Wednesday's verdict, national police spokesman Col. Boy Rafli Amar told CNN it had been the boy's parents who wanted to bring the case to trial. "In this situation, the advice from the police was for the parents to give their son more attention and guidance, but this wasn't accepted by the parents, and they wanted the legal action to be taken."

The Child Protection Commission, however, said the parents had filed a complaint with the Palu police after the alleged victim, 1st Brig. Ahmad Rusdi Harahap, and another colleague interrogated the boy. The parents allege the policemen beat up the boy and forced him to admit to the theft. The parents, according to the commission, wanted a case filed against those policemen.

Both were given disciplinary action, said Rafli, the national police spokesman.

According to Ihsan of the Commission, the police should have prioritized intervention and rehabilitation since the alleged offender is a minor.

There have been numerous cases of minors brought to court over petty crimes. Last year a 12 year-old-boy was tried and later acquitted for allegedly stealing loudspeakers from a mosque in West Java. Another 14-year-old was detained and charged for allegedly stealing a cell phone top up card worth $1.50.

According to the Commission, in 2011 alone, 6,273 minors were reported to be serving time in jail, some of them in adult prisons.

The goal is to get all juveniles out of prison and change the laws governing minor offenders, Ihsan said.

A bill on the protection of children's rights is under deliberation and expected to pass this year in parliament.

"The commission is pushing to abolish juvenile punishment in Indonesia. We hope it will be included in the bill. It means that first the child needs to be returned to their parents for guidance, then given training and education, and the harshest would be rehabilitation with the right intervention. We're not asking that more juvenile facilities be built. We don't want minors in jail," Ihsan explained.

This also is not the first time Indonesians have rallied around a victim of perceived injustice. Public pressure from a similar campaign in 2009, "Coins for Prita," helped a housewife escape criminal liability for complaining in a private e-mail about a hospital's service.

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