Indonesian Woman Jailed for Recording Boss’s Harassment to be Given Amnesty


BANGKOK — An Indonesian bookkeeper who rose to national prominence after she was sentenced to jail for recording her boss to prove he was sexually harassing her is expected to receive amnesty from the country’s president soon.

A grant of amnesty by President Joko Widodo would reverse two Supreme Court rulings and spare the bookkeeper, Nuril Maknun, a six-month jail term and a $35,000 fine, in a case that has highlighted the frequent mistreatment of women in Indonesia.

The president signaled his intention to grant amnesty last week when he asked for Parliament’s approval, which it granted Thursday. Once the president receives a formal letter of approval from Parliament, he will issue a decree granting Ms. Nuril amnesty, an aide to the president said.

“Baiq Nuril is the real victim, not the perpetrator,” said Parliament member Erma Suryani Ranik, using an honorific for Ms. Nuril as she read a statement from Parliament supporting the grant of amnesty.

Ms. Nuril appeared before the Parliament, where she spoke from the podium, thanked her supporters and urged Parliament not to let other women suffer the same treatment.

The plight of Ms. Nuril, 41, resonated with women across the predominantly Muslim nation, who have little recourse against the verbal harassment they often face in the workplace and in public places. Indonesia’s law against sexual harassment does not cover verbal abuse unless there is also physical contact.

The case against Ms. Nuril also called attention to gender inequities in Indonesia’s judicial system, under which Ms. Nuril was punished for recording her boss’s lewd remarks to her but he faced no legal consequences for having uttered them.

After her boss, the principal at the high school where she worked, learned of the recording, Ms. Nuril lost her job, while his career flourished.

She was charged with distributing obscene material and served two months in jail while awaiting trial. He was never charged with a crime.

The case propelled Ms. Nuril, a mother of three, into the national spotlight, where she has become a rare voice for Indonesian women and equal rights.

“For other women who might have experienced cases like me, we have to be brave,” she said in an interview. “Our dignity as women, our self-worth as women, should not be easily trampled by other people.”

Her troubles began six years ago, after she took a temporary bookkeeping job at Senior High School Seven Mataram on Lombok island, east of Bali.

The school’s new principal, Muslim, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, began harassing her and insisting they have sex. He often phoned her and described various sex acts in detail and his attentions prompted rumors that they were having an affair.

To prove that they were not, she recorded one of his lewd calls and played it for her husband and a colleague. Months later, another colleague downloaded the recording from Ms. Nuril’s phone while she was not present.

Mr. Muslim learned of the 15-minute recording about a year after the call. He promised to extend her contract if she deleted it. When she refused, he fired her and reported her to the police, accusing her of criminal defamation.

Even though any defamation would have been based on his own recorded words, the police pursued the case vigorously. After repeated questioning, they arrested Ms. Nuril in March 2017.

When the defamation charge did not stick, she was put on trial for distributing obscene material.

In court, teachers from the school testified that they, not Ms. Nuril, had distributed the recording. The trial court acquitted her, but prosecutors appealed the verdict to the Supreme Court.

In November, a three-judge panel found her guilty and sentenced her to six months in jail. The high court also imposed a $35,000 fine and ordered her to serve another three months if she could not pay it.

After the ruling, President Joko said he would consider granting her clemency once she had exhausted all her legal appeals. She appealed to the Supreme Court for reconsideration, and this month a different three-judge panel upheld the guilty verdict.

Mr. Muslim has declined to discuss the case. But his lawyer, Asmuni, has said that his client was the real victim and that Ms. Nuril deserved to go to jail.

“Men have to be protected, too,” Mr. Asmuni said in a January interview. “She is an ungrateful person and does not know her place.”

Ms. Nuril belatedly reported Mr. Muslim to the police for sexual harassment. But the police pointed out that under Indonesian law, verbal abuse alone does not constitute sexual harassment.

Legislation that would protect women from verbal sexual harassment has long been stalled in Indonesia’s Parliament, where women have never held more than 20 percent of the seats.

“Harassment is not always physical,” Ms. Nuril said. “And also, we don’t have a place to report it if we experience this. I think that will be the government’s homework.”

It is unclear how Parliament would address one potential obstacle to obtaining evidence of verbal harassment: such recordings can be construed as obscene material under the country’s electronic communications law.

Ms. Nuril said she was grateful for the support received “from all over Indonesia, even from abroad,” and that the ordeal had given her a new sense of purpose. “If we stay silent, the men who commit these deeds will feel they are above us,” she said. “We have to be brave whatever the risks.”

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