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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Indonesia considers castration in wake of rape, murder of schoolgirl

JAKARTA, Indonesia - President Joko Widodo is set to issue stricter punishment rules for rapists via an executive order that could include the possibility of castration, after the gang rape and murder of a teenage girl triggered widespread outrage in Indonesia.

The crime on the Indonesian island of Sumatra last month, in which a girl was assaulted and killed by a group of at least a dozen assailants as she walked home from school, has spurred street protests and candlelight vigils in Indonesia in recent days.

Mr. Widodo said this week that sexual violence against children needed “to be made an extraordinary crime.”

Puan Maharani, coordinating minister for human development, said Wednesday that Mr. Widodo would soon issue a decree that would extend maximum prison terms for rapists of children to up to 20 years.

Ms. Maharani said the government is also weighing the possibility of including additional punishment in the order, such as castration. Further details weren’t immediately available.

On Tuesday, a court in Sumatra sentenced seven juveniles found guilty of the rape and murder of the girl to 10 years in prison, the maximum for juveniles.

Rape in Indonesia presently carries a maximum sentence of 15 years for adults, while many other crimes, including murder, drug trafficking and terrorism, can be punished by death. Indonesia doesn’t allow the death penalty for minors.

Rights groups are in favor of more rigorous investigation of sex crimes and sentencing that is closer to the maximum for those convicted, but many of them say castration should not be among the penalties.

The chairwoman of Indonesia’s National Commission on Violence Against Women, an independent agency funded by the government, on Thursday said Indonesia needs to promote gender equality education in schools and improve policing. The agency documented more than 321,000 cases of physical and sexual violence against women in 2015 in the country of 250 million.

“Castration will not solve the problem,” said the agency’s chief, Azriana, who goes by one name.

The lawyers of the seven juvenile suspects who were sentenced on Tuesday said they could consider appealing the sentences, according to a local media report. The lawyers couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Separately, police said that five men were under investigation and searches were on for two other suspects.

The first sentences in a trial that has progressed unusually fast come as the Indonesian leader prepares for a new round of executions of drug offenders, according to rights groups and local media reports, which some political analysts see as a further effort by Mr. Widodo to bolster his tough-on-crime credentials.

Amir Yanto, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office said that the number of convicts and exact timing of the next round of executions is yet to be decided.

Human rights groups in Jakarta say at least seven inmates appear to be facing imminent execution, including foreign citizens. Local media have cited police saying double that number could be executed, including citizens of China and Nigeria.

The executions would be the first since Mr. Widodo rejected international protests more than a year ago and allowed capital sentences to be carried out by firing squad against 14 convicted drug traffickers, including citizens of Australia, the Netherlands and Brazil.

Mr. Widodo “wants to show that he’s confident, and that he’s independent, not in the shadow of anyone else,” said Hendri Satrio, a political science lecturer at Paramadina University, referring to the president’s political partners.

Political analysts said the dramatic measures proposed on sexual assault, and the fresh executions, should give Mr. Widodo, who is now entering a period of relative calm in his five-year presidency of this Southeast Asian nation, a populist boost. Since taking office, Mr. Widodo has pushed hard on economic reform, but has faced slow going on major infrastructure projects and proposals to liberalize trade.

Al Araf, head of the human-rights watchdog Imparsial, said that the government would do better to teach respect for women in schools. “The government’s response is too much,” he said, criticizing the castration proposal.

The chairwoman of the commission against violence against women, Ms. Azriana, added that legislation to prevent sex assault is awaiting debate in Indonesia’s parliament.

“That’s what we should really push,” she said.

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