Indonesia jails 2 police in acid attack on graft official

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A security officer talks on his mobile phone at the sentencing hearing of the two police officers, Ronny Bugis and Rahmat Kadir Mahulette who are accused of attacking Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) investigator Novel Baswedan, at North Jakarta District Court in Jakarta,Indonesia Thursday, July 16, 2020. At the hearing that was held virtually as a precaution against the new coronavirus outbreak, the court sentenced Mahulette to two years and Bugis to 18 months in prison for attacking Baswedan with acid in 2017 that badly damaged his eyes. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

JAKARTA – An Indonesian court on Thursday sentenced two elite police officers to 18 months and two years in prison for attacking a senior anti-corruption investigator with acid, in a verdict slammed by rights groups and anti-graft activists.

Novel Baswedan, a leading investigator at the Corruption Eradication Commission, known by its Indonesian abbreviation KPK, was almost blinded when two men on a motorbike threw acid at him as he left dawn prayers at a mosque in April 2017.

The attack drew condemnation across Indonesia, which suffers from endemic corruption. KPK, seen as one of the few effective institutions in the nation of more than 270 million people, is frequently under legislative attack by lawmakers who want to reduce its powers.

A panel of three judges in North Jakarta District Court delivered the verdict after a trial that was held remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The two members of an elite police mobile brigade, Rahmat Kadir Mahulette and Ronny Bugis, were arrested in December on the outskirts of Jakarta almost three years after the attack.

The indictment said the motive for the attack was personal and not related to Baswedan’s position as a corruption investigator, and prosecutors argued that the defendants did not intend to throw acid on Baswedan’s face, just his body.

Mahulette, who was found guilty of throwing the acid at Baswedan, was sentenced to two years in jail, while Bugis, who allegedly drove the motorbike in the attack, was given 18 months' imprisonment.

Prosecutors had recommended only one-year sentences for each of the defendants. They were widely criticized by anti-corruption activists and international rights groups for not seeking the maximum penalty of 12 years' imprisonment for premeditated attacks that cause permanent disability.

Amnesty International Indonesia Executive Director Usman Hamid called for a new independent investigation into the attack.

Baswedan investigated police corruption and was also leading the probe into a case in which 80 people, mostly officials and legislators, and several companies allegedly used the introduction of a $440 million electronic identity card system in 2011 and 2012 to steal more than a third of the funds.

Senior Golkar party politician and former Speaker of Parliament Setya Novanto was sentenced in April last year to 15 years in prison for coordinating the $170 million theft of public money.

After the attack, Baswedan underwent months of medical treatment of his damaged eyes in Singapore. He criticized the police investigation of his case because no one had been arrested when he returned to work in 2018, 16 months after the attack.

He doubted that the defendants were the real attackers, saying they did not fit their description.

“Many say that this trial is like a theatrical performance. I also believe that,” Baswedan wrote on Twitter ahead of the verdict Thursday, “With many oddities and problems, what do you want to expect? Instead, it proves that Indonesia is a dangerous place for people who want to fight corruption.”

The attack underlined the country’s challenges in fighting graft and threatened the credibility of President Joko Widodo, who won a second term after campaigning for clean governance.

Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, ranked 85th out of 180 countries in the 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International.