Monday, June 25, 2012

Small wonder

You know that quaint legal idea of not being able to profit from one's crimes? It hasn't quite caught on here in Indonesia.

A brief from today's Jakarta Globe:
A court in East Kalimantan has sentenced Abdul Hafid Ahmad, the former head of Nunukan district, to two years in prison and fined him Rp 50 million ($5,300) for embezzling Rp 7 billion from the 2004-05 district budget.
The sentence on Monday from the Anti-Corruption Court in Samarinda, the provincial capital, was substanitally lower than the six years and Rp 200 million fine sought by prosecutors.
A demand for him to repay the Rp 7 billion was also turned down, with the court ruling that there was “no proof that Hafid had enjoyed the money.”
After the ruling, Hafid insisted he was innocent and said he would appeal.
In case you're keeping score at home, this guy has to pay $5,300 and spend two years in the clink — which will inevitably be reduced on appeal — but gets to keep the $740,000 he skimmed from the district budget because the prosecution couldn't prove he "enjoyed" it. Small wonder people are so skittish about taking their chances with the Indonesian legal system.

The reason it's a brief rather than a front-page story on an egregious miscarriage of justice is because graft convicts are regularly fined a fraction of the amount they skimmed off for themselves. More often than not, they're not obliged by the courts to return their ill-gotten gains, either. Small wonder Indonesia is one of the countries where graft is most associated with the cost of doing business.

Not that those tasked with enforcing the country's laws are doing themselves any favors. When mayors and district heads can ignore rulings by the Supreme Court and the police can be cowed by the mere threat of violence by religious thugs, small wonder people question how much weight the rule of law really carries in Indonesia.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Another false dawn?

Sitting around tables. Engaging in dialogue. Signing memorandums of understanding. Holding news conferences to announce the aforementioned dialogue and releasing statements saying the details will be hammered out later. If Indonesia's business class has mastered anything, it's the art of Doing Something without actually doing anything.

The latest twist in the long-running saga of the fight to control Indonesian football is an apparent peace deal between the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) and the Indonesian Football Savior Committee (KPSI). The deal -- overseen by world governing body FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation -- aims to end more than two years of internal power struggles, and the announcement of the MoU brought much back-slapping and high-minded talk of working in the best interest of the sport. The highlights are that it 1) requires the reinstatement of the four former PSSI executive committee members who resigned to form the KPSI; 2) brings the Indonesian Super League under the PSSI's jurisdiction but allows it to finish its season operating autonomously; 3) dissolves the KPSI as a governing body; 4) establishes a joint committee (half PSSI, half KPSI) to create a new top-tier league "as soon as possible" and review the PSSI statutes; and 5) requires a new PSSI congress before the end of the year.

Granted, even getting the two groups to sit down together is a minor victory given the chilly reception attempts at reconciliation talks received. As anyone paying the slightest bit of attention can tell, though, the issues plaguing Indonesia's favorite sport run far deeper and are more complex than can be rectified by a few gabfests and a new committee. There are underlying, fundamental questions that must be answered before any meaningful reform can emerge. (Sound familiar?)

Friday, June 22, 2012

The things we print

As an expat, and especially as an expat journalist, it is incumbent upon me to learn about the social mores of my country of residence and adjust my expectations and understanding. I like to think I've done a reasonable job of adapting and blending in, or at least as much as a big, hairy bule can in Indonesia.

That said, sometimes bullshit is just bullshit. Every so often, an article comes across the copy desk whose subject matter makes my eyes start twitching again. There is an understanding on the copy desk that local reporters will sometimes tend toward credulity, not asking follow-up questions or poking at a statement that doesn't pass the smell test out of either a deference to authority or a sheer lack of time. These aren't much fun to edit but are often salvageable.

Then there are articles that are just plain bullshit from soup to nuts. We've had our fair share at Globe Towers — from asking feng shui masters and fortune tellers to predict the events of 2012 to profiling spiritual consultants, shamans and a guy who is so close to Allah he can pray away the rain. We've had woo-tacular health stories about acupressure and a "healer" who says he can cure breast cancer with leeches. Seriously.

This week brought a whopper of unprecedented depths. It was on an "aesthetic wellness clinic" with a handful of entertainers singing the praises of homeopathic remedies and other pseudoscience. Homeopathy, let's remember, has yet to show any efficacy past a placebo effect and is based on the principle of water "remembering" what was once in it. The article also quotes the doctor — of what, I shudder to think — pushing various dubious-sounding remedies, including one that "eliminates free radicals from the body and heals many chronic illnesses, such as cancer." [Emphasis mine — ed.]

Then there was this passage, which was just ... ick.
Indonesian singer Marini said she also maintains her excellent physical condition by visiting the clinic.

“I’m so lucky to have come across Nano Philosophy last year,” she said. “The clinic has helped me look and feel good since then.”

The 65-year-old had previously struggled with constipation that led to severe bloating, lethargy and dull facial skin.

“The doctor treated me with Nano cocktails and organic juices,” she said. “After three treatments, I can move my bowels regularly. I’ve never felt so good in my life. My friends also said my skin looks smoother and more supple.”
I raged against this story for hours, though obviously to no avail. At the very least, I did manage to work the word "claims" into the sentence "Homeopathy is a form of alternative medicine that assists the body’s natural tendency to heal itself."

We also managed to cut this bit thanks to a space crunch. Pills that give you a six-pack, beat depression, quit smoking and get over a breakup? Where do I sign?!?
“The pills improve my metabolism and make my body leaner,” said Chicco. “I now have a six-pack [abs].” 
Nano Philosophy has a wide range of homeopathic treatments for hormonal imbalance, joint pain, nerve pain and depression.
“For Chicco, we used a cocktail made of laminaria [brown algae] that destroys fat buildup and excretes them through his lymphatic system,” Muliana said.
The clinic also prescribes homeopathic pills for reducing stress, quitting smoking or even getting over a bad breakup. 
“The lovesick remedy is usually prescribed after a relationship breakup or a sudden bereavement,” Muliana said. “It enhances the mood and energizes patients to continue their lives.”
The pills are taken twice daily, in the morning and at night. Muliana would not say how much they cost.
You know what they call alternative medicine that's proven to work? Medicine.

Friday, June 15, 2012

My kind isn't welcome here

There is a trend among Western politicians and pundits to describe Indonesia as some sort of example of religious pluralism -- a place where democracy and Islam can coexist and promote tolerance amid diverse cultures.

Don't you believe it. While Indonesia has yet to give in to its nationalistic tendencies and kick out those troublemaking bules, there is a growing atmosphere of intolerance and impunity among Islamic hard-liners, a development aided by authorities being either unwilling or unable to stand up to extremists for fear of losing the hard-liners' support come election time.

What's worse, the extremists have a growing list of successes. There was the high-profile chasing-off of Lady Gaga, as well as quashing the discussion and publication of books that offend their delicate sensibilities. Now a man has been jailed for the heinous, unforgivable crime of not believing in Allah.

A civil servant in West Sumatra was sentenced on Thursday to two and a half years in jail by a local district court for admitting to being an atheist.

Alexander Aan, an aspiring civil servant in the Dharmasraya district, came into the public spotlight in January when he was assaulted by a mob for posting on his Facebook account that he did not believe in a deity.

Prosecutors later charged him with hate crimes under the 2008 Information and Electronic Transactions (ITE) Law and with blasphemy under the Criminal Code, which carries a maximum prison sentence of six years and fines of up to Rp 1 billion ($106,000).

Tolerance advocacy group the Setara Institute said on Thursday that the charges against Aan set a bad precedent for freedom of expression in Indonesia.

“Criminally charging Alexander is a mistake because what he wrote on his Facebook page does not contain provocations, urges or calls, as described in the ITE law or in the Criminal Code,” the group said in a statement.

Indonesia guarantees the freedom of expression under its 1945 constitution as well as the 1999 law on Human Rights.

In 2005, Indonesia also adopted into law the International Covenant on Civilian and Political Rights.

“With this conviction, anyone has the potential to be charged over what they say, which is then subjectively deemed by a group of people or law enforcers as spreading hatred, blasphemy, or provoking others,” the institute said. “Aan’s verdict is a step backwards for human rights in Indonesia.”
Apparently the judges cited several sentences that they claimed were "defamatory," such as "Muhammad tertarik kepada menantunya sendiri" (Muhammad was attracted to his own daughter-in-law) and "Kisah Nabi Muhammad bersenggama dengan babu istrinya" (The story of Prophet Muhammad having sexual intercourse with his wife’s maid). This is spreading "religious and racial hatred," huh? Leaving aside the obvious reply that blasphemy is a victimless crime, this is awfully close to invoking the Streisand effect. If you can't joke about Muhammad, talk about Muhammad's life outside that which is approved by his acolytes or even draw a picture of him, you're just begging for an eventual backlash from people who refuse to be censored.

Indonesia -- where you can be jailed for three months for killing someone who believes in the wrong kind of Islam but 30 months for not believing at all. Indonesia -- where local officials can ignore Supreme Court rulings and shutter churches, forcing Christians to worship on the street or in secret. Indonesia -- where Shariah law is welcomed but Christians are not. Indonesia -- "the most tolerant country in the world." My flabby, white ass.

Let's be clear about this: There is no god, and no amount of oppression, coercion or indoctrination by governments and religions will change that fact. You wanna bring me in for that, Tifatul? Come get me.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Hot blood, cold comfort

So now we know -- Indonesia wins the 2010 AFF Cup semifinals 3-2 on aggregate. Odd how it took 16 months to play the other leg.

How should Merah Putih fans react to a 2-2 draw against the Philippines in Manila? It all depends on one's expectations. Taking the optimistic view, any positive result on the road is a good one, especially as the national team faced what has been called the strongest Azkals team ever while fielding 13 guys from the officially sanctioned but still clearly second-best Indonesian Premier League plus three disgruntled Papuans from Indonesian Super League clubs.

Road friendlies are fairly rare for Indonesia. It only played one last year -- a 1-0 loss at Jordan in a match kindly set up by Prince Ali, who just happens to be friendly with the new leadership of the PSSI, because no one else would play it -- and none in 2010. In 2009, Indonesia played local clubs in Oman and Kuwait in preparation for Asian Cup qualifiers, while the only national team it played in a friendly was away to Singapore, where it lost 3-1. The point is, Indonesia doesn't have much experience playing in hostile environments, which shows during times like the team's collective pant-soiling in a 3-0 loss at Malaysia during the AFF Cup finals. The Merah Putih won't have the luxury of home field at this year's AFF Cup in Thailand and Malaysia -- assuming they're allowed to play and not banned from international competition after multiple finger-waggings from FIFA -- so the ability to score away from home and salvage a result is not to be underestimated.

That is the charitable view. It's not wrong, but neither does it fully take into account the problems facing Indonesia -- and they are vast. (More after the jump)