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Indonesia’s Teenage Thief and ‘Sandal Scandal’

Police in the Central Sulawesi capital of Palu, Indonesia beat a 15 year-old boy named A.A.L and threatened him with a five-year jail sentence after the boy was accused of stealing a pair of $1-flip-flops owned by a policeman. The incident has angered many citizens who launched a ‘sandal protest’ by depositing sandals in front of police stations across the country.

According to the protesters, the ‘sandal scandal’ highlighted the injustice experienced by the poor while the rich and powerful accused of corruption are given special treatment by the police:

This is the latest in a series of recent incidents from Aceh to Bima and from Lampung to Cilacap in which the police have turned against our children and vulnerable citizens and abused their power. But people have had enough and are sending a ‘flood of sandals’ to demonstrate their disgust. Now, the police are on the back foot and the government is feeling the heat. If we can build a huge public petition to President Yudhoyono we could force him to rein in our police and initiate critical reforms.

An online petition was initiated urging the president to implement reforms on how the police perform their duties:

To President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono:

In the wake of the A.A.L. sandal scandal, we call on you to end the criminalisation of children, initiate a fundamental review of the police, and devise urgent reform programmes so that our police carry out their civic duties repsonsibly. This is a time for you to stand with Indonesian citizens — we count on you to take all necessary steps to bring about a police force that works for the people, not against them.

But Jakartass notes the limitation of petition campaigns:

Let the pressure mount from within is what I've suggested A petition will do nothing, but making monkeys out of the police by presenting them with bananas is not an arrestable offence, but they will surely take note. Non-violent yet upfront demonstrations can be effective and media-worthy events.

'Sandals for Justice'. Photo from petition page in avaaz.org

'Sandals for Justice'. Photo from petition page in avaaz.org

Donny Syofyan suggests some legislative remedies to protect the rights of children:

Hence, the need for Juvenile Court legislation that really makes sense, that would prevent children from being detained in prison. There must be correction houses, such as boarding schools or special dorms, for children with legal problems.

The government and the House of Representatives need to say yes to pass the bill without delay. The bill must give an ear to a restorative justice approach with a view to prioritizing mediation and rehabilitation over penalties.

The absence of the country’s justice system in dealing with young delinquents frequently makes law enforcers take a punitive approach.

Armando Siahaan writes about the ‘pervasive irony’ in the Indonesian legal system:

If law enforcers would go after high-level corruption the same way they handled the kid who stole a pair of sandals from a police officer, just imagine how clean this country would be.

But surely there is a remedy short of taking them to court. Being found guilty could result in these youngsters being stigmatized as criminals and face possible psychological damage that could harm their future.

Sadly, the sandal scandal is just another example of the pervasive irony in our legal system. It’s easy to nab young wrongdoers, but mission impossible to catch the really big fish.

Protrait Indonesia describes the reactions of the people after the police beating incident was made public:

There was a bit of a national uproar; even normally judgmental religious leaders protested at the harshness of this prospective sentence. The press rushed to contrast the potential sentence with the lenient treatment of politicians and businesspeople accused of corruption. People convicted of stealing millions of dollars often spend just a few months in jails kitted out with gyms, spas and private dining rooms. In the end the kid was indeed convicted, but was sent home to lick his police-inflicted wounds with nothing more than stern warnings as punishment.

Nomadlife supports the ‘sandal protest’:

It's great to see that grass root movement in Indonesia is going strong. We still have tons of stupid stuff going on that need to be challenged publicly.

Colson calls the protest as “beating bitter irony by frisky irony”:

An action – “1000 sandals for the national police commander”- has been launched to shower the men in uniform with sandals. Mountains of that footwear are being delivered at the police station.

It is what it should be: beating bitter irony by frisky irony.

I guess the best way to undermine their authoritarian haughtiness is to confront these men with power with playful teasing. Like this peaceful demonstration by which people show they don’t buy their bullshit any-more.

Three cheers to public opinion which is way ahead of the Police.

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