Indonesia

Indonesia: Anti-graft activist jailed for aid theft

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Laksamana.Net - A court in Aceh province has sentenced anti-corruption campaigner Farid Faqih to one year in jail for stealing tsunami relief aid from the military.

Judges at Jantho District Court, near the provincial capital Banda Aceh, on Thursday (23/6/05) said Faqih (51) was guilty of violating two articles of the Criminal Code by "taking goods owned by other people or parties without their permission". In addition to the jail sentence, he was ordered to pay court costs of Rp1,000.

Prosecutors had earlier demanded a three-year jail sentence for Faqih, who was savagely beaten by at least one soldier for the alleged theft on January 26 and then arrested by police.

Presiding judge Abdul Rosyad said the defendant's action had hindered relief work in Aceh, which on December 26 was hit by an earthquake and gigantic tidal waves that killed over 130,000 people and left more than 500,000 homeless.

"The sentence is one year, including the time he has already spent in detention. So Farid Faqih will be punished for about seven more months," Rosyad was quoted as saying by detikcom online news portal.

Faqih is coordinator of the Government Watch (GOWA) anti-corruption group and has been highly critical of the notoriously corrupt military's handling of relief aid in Aceh. He has also accused government officials of exaggerating the numbers of people living in refugee camps in order to collect and embezzle more aid.

At the time of the alleged theft, he was a registered volunteer in Aceh and working as a contractor for the United Nations' World Food Program.

He has consistently denied any wrongdoing, claiming he was monitoring the donated aid and trying to ensure it would not be lost or damaged by rain. He was left covered in bruises after being accused of stealing the aid from Banda Aceh's Iskandar Muda Military Airport.

Army officer Captain Syuib Mahmud was on March 23 sentenced to three months in jail for the brutal attack.

The military said Faqih had illegally removed medical supplies, cooking stoves, tents, clothing, medicine and cigarettes donated by the wives of military officers to the tsunami survivors. Some military officials claimed he was stealing the aid on behalf of Aceh's separatist rebels.

Faqih was arrested with three members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), who allegedly assisted in the removal of the supplies but were never brought to court. The military later claimed the FPI members had warned him not to take the aid. Soldiers found large amounts of international aid in three warehouses operated by the activist.

Thursday's court session lasted just one hour. Judges said the sentence was lower than the three years demanded by the prosecution because Faqih had come to Aceh with the intention of helping the tsunami victims and was polite during the trial.

Outside the court, Faqih said he rejected the verdict. Accompanied by his crying wife Ratih, he defended his action in removing the aid. "I reject the judge's verdict because it was made arbitrarily. I had not intended to steal another person's goods. Instead I had intended to rescue those goods so they would not be damaged," he was quoted as saying by acehkita.com.

Faqih said he would leave any decision on whether to appeal in the hands of his lawyers. His chief lawyer Rufriadi said he would make a decision within a week after consulting other lawyers in Jakarta.

The judges ruled that Faqih must remain behind bars at the Jantho prison regardless of whether or not he appeals.

The prosecution said it would decide within a week on whether or not to appeal the sentence. The charges against Faqih had carried a maximum sentence of seven years in jail. His supporters said his arrest and trial were engineered by his enemies in the military and government.

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