8 Nov 2010

Indonesian court acquits Muslim cleric who claimed Islam allowed him to marry 12 year old girl

The Jakarta Post - October 14, 2009

Cleric acquitted of sexual abuse

Suherdjoko , The Jakarta Post , Semarang

A court acquitted controversial Muslim cleric Pujiono Cahyo Widianto on Tuesday of child sexual abuse charges for marrying an underage girl, aged just 12.

After hearing the charges and the plea from the legal team of Pujiono alias Syech Puji, 43, led by noted lawyer O.C. Kaligis, presiding judge Hari Mulyanto deemed the charges unclear and inaccurate, so much so that the trial could not proceed.

"The defendant is acquitted of the charges and should be released from detention," Hari told the trial at the Ungaran District Court, Central Java, which was open to the public.

Prosecutors had charged Pujiono, a wealthy brassware entrepreneur and owner of Miftahul Jannah Islamic boarding school in Jambu district, Semarang regency, of violating the 2002 law on child protection and article 290 of the Criminal Code on child molestation for marrying an underage girl, Lutfiana Ulfa, just 12 years old and still an eighth grader, in August, 2008.

The charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.

Upon hearing the court ruling, Pujiono's legal advisers immediately asked the judges when their client would be released.

"Later. Wait until the process is over," Hari said.

Pujiono's second wife, Lutfiana, and his first wife, Ummi Hani, also present in court, greeted the acquittal joyously and cried.

In response to the ruling, prosecutors said they would file an appeal. "We will redraft the charges immediately and file an appeal," said prosecutor Didik Djoko Ady after the trial. He said the judges should have proceeded with the trial to hear the charges. "Instead the judges acquitted the defendant and ended the trial," said Didik.

He added his team would perfect the indictments and resubmit them to the court.

The marriage of Pujiono and the girl became a controversial public issue, with the cleric defending himself by saying the marriage was allowed by his religion.

Women and child protection activists condemned the cleric and urged the police to take action against Puji for violating child protection laws.

Director of the Legal Resource Center for Gender and Human Rights Eva Risan censured the court for dropping the charges.

"It's a bad precedent. The decision is legally flawed. The judges have no commitment to upholding child protection laws," Eva told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

She said her organization, along with other organizations grouped under the Coalition for the Protection of Women and Children, would report the judges to the Supreme Court and to the Judicial Commission.

Eva considered the judges were put under pressure as Pujiono always brought his supporters to the court sessions

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Asia One News - October 13, 2009

Indonesian court rejects child abuse case against cleric


UNGARAN, Indonesia - An Indonesian court Tuesday dismissed child abuse charges against a wealthy Muslim cleric who took a 12-year-old girl as his unofficial wife.

Chief Judge Hari Mulyanto told the Ungaran District Court in Central Java that the prosecution had failed to prove the cleric sexually abused the girl.

"We have accepted the objections of the defendant's lawyer. The charges filed by the prosecutors failed to give details on the defendant's offences," he said.

Pujiono Cahyo Widiyanto, 43, from the Central Java city of Semarang, sparked nationwide controversy over his decision to marry the girl, Lutfiana Ulfa, who comes from a poor family.

He has defended the arranged and unofficial marriage, his second, on the grounds that the girl had reached puberty.

Prosecutors charged the cleric under a 2002 child protection law with forcing or trading a child into sex.

The cleric was facing a maximum sentence of 15 years' jail.

Indonesian law carries stiff penalties for paedophilia, but unregistered "marriages" between older men and under-age girls are common in rural areas where poor families sometimes sell their daughters to wealthy suitors.

National Child Protection Commission Secretary-General Arist Merdeka Sirait condemned the judges' decision and said they should be investigated by the judicial oversight body.

"The judges are ... not aware of child protection issues. How could they free a person who took an under-age girl as his wife?" he told AFP.

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