PALU, Indonesia -- A court found a boy guilty yesterday of stealing a pair of worn-out sandals but allowed him to go free in a case that captured headlines and focused attention on an uneven judicial system.
Hundreds of people who packed the court building in Central Sulawesi's capital screamed with dissatis-faction as the judge read the verdict.
The onlookers had brought pairs of used sandals and piled them outside the courtroom to express their frustration over the legal system. Some rallied outside the building ahead of the hearing to demand the 15-year-old boy's acquittal. The boy, unnamed because of his age, could have received 5 years in prison, the same sentence given to terrorists, drug pushers and rapists.
"Based on facts and testimony during the trial, the defendant was proven to have violated the law by committing theft," Judge Rommel Tampubolon said. He ordered the boy returned to his parents for counseling.
The boy was accused of taking the sandals in November 2010 near a boarding house used by police. Six months later he was interrogated and badly beaten by three police officers who accused him of theft.
One officer, Sgt. Ahmad Rusdi Harahap, claimed the sandals were his and took the teenager to criminal court. The boy was not detained. When shown the sandals at the trial, however, Harahap said they were the wrong brand and size.
Tampubolon found the boy guilty of theft, even though the sandals did not belong to the policeman.
"We are really disappointed," said Sofyan Farid Lembah of the National Commission for Child Protection. "We will ask the Judicial Commission to probe the judge."
Two of the boy's friends testified in the trial that he was beaten up by the officer with a peace of wood. They said he was also kicked, causing him to fall into a steep trench.
Indonesia has made tremendous strides toward democracy since the ouster of longtime dictator Suharto in 1998, but the judicial system remains a weak point.