Prosecutors say they will appeal. Widianto, for his part, defended himself “by saying the marriage was allowed by his religion.” Child protection advocates are quite correct that the ruling sets a bad precedent, but the precedent that contributes even more to the persistence of child marriage in Islamic countries is Muhammad’s own example, having married Aisha at the age of six, and consummating the marriage when she was nine.
Ungaran, 14 October (AKI/Jakarta Post) – An Indonesian court has acquitted controversial Muslim cleric Pujiono Cahyo Widianto over child sexual molestation charges for marrying an underage girl, aged 12 last year. Widianto risked up to 15 years in jail, had he been convicted of the charges. Prosecutors said they would appeal the court ruling. The girl is his second wife.
After hearing the charges and the plea from the legal team of Pujiono alias Syech Puji, 43, led by top lawyer O.C. Kaligis, presiding judge Hari Mulyanto deemed the charges unclear and inaccurate, meaning 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 of violating the 2002 law on child protection and article 290 of Indonesia’s Criminal Code on child molestation for marrying an underage girl, Lutfiana Ulfa, just 12 years old and still an eighth grader, in August, 2008.
Pujiono’s second wife, Lutfiana, and his first wife, Ummi Hani, also present in court, greeted the acquittal joyously and cried.
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 and heard the charges.
“Instead the judges acquitted the defendant and ended the trial,” said Didik. He added his team would rework the indictments and resubmit them to the court.
The marriage 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 Widianto 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,” Risan told The Jakarta Post after the ruling late on Tuesday.
She said her organisation, along with other organizations grouped under the Coalition for the Protection of Women and Children, would report the judges to Indonesia’s Supreme Court and to the country’s Judicial Commission.
Risan considered the judges were put under pressure as Pujiono always brought his supporters to the court sessions.