Asia-Pacific

Indonesian woman jailed for exposing boss' lewd phone calls

Baiq Nuril Maknun ooks stunned after she got slapped with a six-month jail term for violating a controversial law against spreading indecent material. Source: PIKONG/AFP/Getty Images

An Indonesian woman has lost an appeal against a conviction for distributing obscene material in recording her boss's sexual advances to her.

A school bookkeeper in Indonesia who recorded her boss’ lewd phone call as proof she was being harassed must serve at least six months in prison for distributing obscene material, the country’s Supreme Court has ruled.

Nuril Maknun, 41, who worked as a part-time bookkeeper at a high school on the religiously conservative island of Lombok, said on Friday that she was disappointed by the court’s ruling, which she called an “obvious injustice.” It was her final appeal in a case that has been closely followed across the country and that became an issue during the recent presidential election.

“I, as a woman, should be protected, but then I was the one who became the victim,” she said in a telephone interview. “People should know that when we get harassed, there is no place to take refuge.”

Her boss, who goes by the single name Muslim, as is common in Indonesia, was the principal at Senior High School Seven in Mataram, Lombok’s largest city.

Nuril recorded him using explicit language and hounding her to have an affair. He was never punished for harassing her and instead has been promoted repeatedly.

The case has highlighted the common problem of workplace harassment in Indonesia. President Joko Widodo said in the runup to his re-election that he would consider granting clemency to Nuril once her legal appeals had been exhausted.

Possible amnesty

On Friday afternoon, the president told reporters in Manado, a city on Sulawesi island, that he would not comment on the Supreme Court ruling but that Nuril should apply for amnesty as soon as possible so that his office could assume legal authority over her case.

“Since the beginning, my attention to this case has never diminished,” he said. “If it gets to me, then it will be under my authority, and I will use the authority I have.”

Women in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim country, have little legal recourse and are expected to tolerate harassment and sometimes sexual relations if they want to keep their jobs, women’s rights advocates said.

Nuril was acquitted at trial, but prosecutors appealed the verdict.

A three-judge panel found her guilty last year and imposed a sentence of six months and a fine of about $35,000, a huge amount for her family. If she does not pay the fine, she must serve an additional three months.

In the ruling released on Thursday by a different three-judge panel, the court denied her request for a review of the case.

Recording the calls

The problems for Nuril, a mother of three, began in 2013 when Muslim took over as principal of the high school where she worked.

He made vulgar remarks and a rumor spread that they had been carrying on an affair.

Determined to disprove the rumor, she recorded one of his calls and played it for her husband and a teacher.

After learning of the recording’s existence, Muslim filed a police complaint against Nuril for criminal defamation.

During the police investigation, she was arrested and jailed for a month.

Eventually, prosecutors rejected the defamation complaint, but charged her with distributing obscene material.

At trial, she denied distributing the recording and testified that a colleague, Imam Mudawin, downloaded it from her phone while she was in another room.

But the Supreme Court sided with prosecutors, who contended that she gave Imam the indecent recording for distribution.

'Punishing the victim'

Her attorney, Joko Jumadi, said she would apply for amnesty next week, but would not seek a presidential pardon because she is not guilty of any crime. A grant of amnesty would expunge her criminal record.

“We stand firm that Baiq Nuril is not guilty,” he said, using a local honorific. “Even though she has to go to prison for this fight, she is ready.”

An online fundraising campaign had raised more than $26,000 by midday on Friday to help pay her fine.

Nuril said she was proud to fight for her “dignity as a woman,” but questioned why she was being sent to jail when it was Muslim who made the obscene comments.

“Clearly the person has admitted that it was his voice, admitted that he was the one who called me, admitted that he was the one who said things that were inappropriate,” she said.

“Why can he just casually walk around,” she asked, “while I, as the victim, am the one being punished?”

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