Indonesian courts sink low while the judges get high

Should Indonesian ever launch a campaign to legalize drugs, they couldn't ask for a better champion to lead their movement than a judge. Perhaps even a couple of them!

Puji Wiryanto, a judge from the district court in Bekasi, a satellite town of Jakarta, was arrested earlier this month by the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) while having a karaoke and drug party with two lawyer friends and four escorts at a place appropriately called Illigals Hotel and Club in West Jakarta. (The photo above shows Indonesian judges in their more typical august surroundings, during a recent terrorism trial.)

Puji reserved his singing talents for the interrogation room: He claimed he is not the only judge in town to do drugs. While not mentioning names, he said all the alleged drug-users were serving judges in district courts in Jakarta, Indonesia's capital city.

The Supreme Court, which administers and oversees judges, quickly denied his claim and stressed that Puji is the only bad apple in the batch. The court has suspended Puji pending the results of the police investigation.

However, the Judicial Commission, a government body responsible as the main watchdog for the country's judiciary, begged to differ. Its preliminary inquiry following Puji's arrest and disclosure revealed there may be five other judges using drugs; the commission later said it is now investigating 10 suspected judges.

The reputation of the judiciary -- the nation's bastion of justice -- has taken a major beating in the past due to corruption scandals.

In August, two judges of the anti-corruption court in Semarang in Central Java were caught red-handed by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) accepting bribes in connection with a case they were trying. It was later learned that the two judges were serving on the same panel that acquitted six defendants in previous corruption cases.

This latest drug scandal is bound to drag public opinion of the judiciary even lower, especially coming after a series of controversial government decisions to commute the harsh sentences of convicted drug offenders. A woman whose death sentence was commuted to life by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2011 was recently discovered to be running a drug ring from inside prison.

The recent arrests of drug smugglers suggest that Indonesia has become a lucrative target for drug trafficking despite the threat of the death penalty. Many traffickers were given the maximum sentence, but none have yet been executed because of the complex and lengthy appeals process. The few who did complete the appeals process, such as the woman caught dealing from inside the prison, received reduced sentences.

The government tried to downplay Puji's arrest, appealing to the public not to be overly judgmental of him. "A judge is just like other ordinary people. We can understand if the judiciary also has some officials using drugs," said Law and Human Rights Minister Amir Syamsudin.

The public has become accustomed to stories of police officers caught with drugs: Now they are also expected to accept judges using drugs as normal. This says a lot about the national commitment to fight the drug menace.

At least some people are trying to shore up public confidence in the judiciary. In Depok, another satellite town of Jakarta, the district court requires all judges to undergo regular urine tests, and the National Narcotics Agency says it is introducing mandatory random urine tests for judges across the country.

It is imperative that the reputation of the courts not sink any lower.

Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

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