A democracy is a form of government that depends largely on both the trust and the participation of its constituents. Indonesia is one of the world’s youngest and most populous democracies, spread out over more than 17,000 islands. Implementing democracy to so many people over so much territory would certainly be an understandable hindrance to progress, as bureaucratic difficulties make participation difficult. However, Indonesia faces a greater problem in maintaining the populace’s trust that is made all the more daunting by the fact that it comes from within: widespread corruption so prevalent and so abhorred that it garners a name synonymous with organized, despicable crime: the Judicial Mafia.

According to Taufik Basari, chairman of the board of LBH Masyarakat, the Judicial Mafia is”a culture in the judicial process, one that recognizes that money and power can talk. If a person doesn’t have money or power, they believe the process will be longer and more difficult.” Basari is a respected lawyer in Jakarta and a lecturer of human rights philosophy at the University of Indonesia. He says corruption “is in the whole system, from the investigation process, to the trial, to the prisons.” Every Indonesian recognizes the culture and sees it as involving perpetrators from all levels of society, from the lowest of law enforcement officials, to the highest ranks of governmental bodies, a stratification reflected in the name “Judicial Mafia.”

Corruption takes many forms including bribery, blackmail, the fixing of lawsuits, the intimidation of witnesses, and all of the exceptions to regulations that money can buy. Bribery is far too common. “The accused persons can bribe prosecutors to drop a case against them,” or on the other side of the situation, “those who reported a crime can bribe the police to take the investigation more seriously, or bribe judges or court officials to lean a certain way.” Even without money incentives, powerful individuals can use their standing to influence the state, prosecutors, even witnesses to act a certain way. An accused person without resources, money, or the desire to participate in corruption is heavily disadvantaged in the trial process before it even begins.

The problems of the accused aren’t limited to the courtrooms. In order to extend a detained person’s stay in prison in many common law systems, the officer and detainee must appear before a court with a valid request for the extension. Here, Basari explains, the police officer merely needs to write a letter to the judge requesting a stay. This leads to situations where a police officer can extort money out of detainees in exchange for not writing a request of extension to the judge. Likewise, prison corruption has reached a level where money, it is said, can buy a prisoner anything but his freedom. A recent scandal emerged when a prominent businesswoman, Artalyta Suryani, went to prison for attempting to bribe the judiciary. Instead of being treated like other prisoners, Suryani was serving her jail sentence in a luxurious prison cell (if you can call it a cell). At 64 square meters, it was over twelve times bigger than a standard cell of 5 square meters and was equipped with a large bed, flat screen TV, air conditioner and more. By contrast, prison officials force other prisoners, living in squalor, to pay money simply to allow their families to come to visitation sessions that, legally, are free.

Basari believes that the corruption in the system comes from several causes. Sociologically, people understand corruption to be so prevalent that many innocent parties feel they must comply with it in order to stay on an even level. In addition, the professionalism in the law enforcement fields must change. Officers need to be involved in the field out of a sincere belief in fighting for integrity and against crime, not as a job where they can make money by dubious means. Systematically, the state must change the laws in order to close doors that act as opportunities for corruption. This includes situations like the loophole that allows police officers to extort money from detainees in exchange for not extending their stay. Currently, NGOs and the civil society of Jakarta are collaborating with the courts in Jakarta to identify these legal loopholes and close them.

In one of the most famous recent corruption cases, Urip Tri Gunawan, a highly prominent prosecutor famous for being the lead prosecutor in the Bali Bombings trial, received $660,000 US Dollars as bribery money to drop a case. His defense? He claimed he made the money “from the jewelry business.” Whenever cases of outrageous corruption are discovered such as Gunawan or Suryani in her lavish jail cell, the public is united in the vehement disdain. This has led President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to declare the eradication of corruption as one of his top priorities. He has since formed an “Anti-Judicial Mafia Task Force” of 6 members who are in charge of investigating and reporting on cases of corruption and has been supportive of the independent government organization known as the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). The KPK investigates and prosecutes cases of lost state finances valued at over 1 billion Rupiah ($110,000 US). For smaller corruption cases, they pass them onto law enforcement and occasionally watch over cases to their completion. The KPK, being separate from the government, is popular among the public because they are not afraid to go after and clean up the Judicial Mafia.

The Judicial Mafia, corruption so vast that it often seems more of a sentient entity than epidemic problem, has been understandably displeased with the KPK’s prosecutions. In what is allegedly retaliation, the authorities brought a corruption case against two leading officers of the Corruption Eradication Commission, a former police officer named Bibit and an advocate named Chandra. The initial news reaction was staggering: anti-corruption officials who are, themselves, corrupt. Basari, the attorney for the accused officers of the KPK, maintains his clients’ innocence. They were accused of receiving money to drop a prosecution against a wealthy executive. However, evidence now shows that not only is there no record of them ever seeing the money, but also that the man who originally testified that he paid them has changed his statement to say he never gave them the money in the first place. In addition, investigators proved that the supposed police recordings of conversations between the parties never existed. By now, the general public believes that the evidence brought against Bibit and Chandra was fabricated, and that the anti-corruption officers are victims of the corruption they fight, rather than participants. The case had been dismissed due to a lack of evidence, though there is a chance it may still resume.

The fact that the case against KPK appears to be fabricated has restored great faith in the organization, as well as further disdain for the corrupt system. However, Basari believes that there needs to be fundamental changes as well as shifts in public opinion. The culture must change. The law enforcement system operates on the principle of “reward and punishment.” This means that the corrupt officials must be punished for their actions, but also that the clean officers must be rewarded for their integrity. Currently, officers of integrity often feels the system lacks the ability to reward them. Furthermore, the apparatus for recruiting future officers must be more selective and “provide good training and education to encourage a spirit of integrity.”

Systematically, the government is not transparent. A recent study by Transparency International ranked Indonesia, the world’s third largest democracy, 111th in a ranking of national transparency and integrity. The score of 2.6 out of 10 places them in a tie with countries such as Algeria, Egypt, and Mali. (source) “We must reform the law on criminal procedure,” Basari says, “to close doors for opportunities for corruption. We try to learn from other countries’ examples.” Critics of the government maintain that it’s not enough for NGO’s to be vigilant, the higher levels of government must do something in the legal and policy aspects.

The first step in solving any issue is to identify the problem, and for the majority of the 230 million people in Indonesia, this has been done. The name Judicial Mafia carries the ugliest of connotations and has been successful in conveying the size of the issue to the public, and public demands for change have been made. Perhaps it won’t happen quickly, and certainly corruption still plagues the system. However, because the President has appointed a task-force and because independent commissions such as the KPK are revered in the public view for their courage to clean the system, there is hope for brighter days. Hope for days of justice and equality, for even playing fields for citizens of all social status and financial backgrounds, for a culture of reward and punishment to reward integrity and eventually punish corruption to nonexistence.

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