Bogor. Legal experts on Thursday had mixed reactions to the failure of a courtroom and its judges to take any action against a criminal defendant seen texting as well as reading text messages during the course of his trial.
Aldi Afriansyah, one of three defendants standing trial for destruction of property and inciting violence during an October riot in Bogor, was seen checking his mobile phone and texting on a number of occasions during the course of Wednesday’s trial.
At one point during the hearing at the Cibinong District Court, Aldi stuffed his cellphone, which had been on a vibrate mode, into his trouser pocket, before pulling it out again and reading a text message.
Aldi, along with 18-year-old Dede Novi and 17-year-old Akbar Ramanda, is accused of being part of a mob that burned down houses, schools and a mosque at the Bogor village on Oct. 1, home to 600 members of the Ahmadiyah, a minority Islamic sect.
Criminologist Adrianus Meilala from the University of Indonesia said that if judges, prosecutors and lawyers did not respect correct courtroom procedures practiced by a majority of courts worldwide, one could not expect criminal defendants to be any different.
“Using a mobile phone during an ongoing trial hearing is forbidden. But unfortunately, this is very common in Indonesia. In this trial, a defendant was witnessed being preoccupied by his cellphone while a witness was giving testimony. In other courtrooms across the country, you can find judges, prosecutors and lawyers busy with their phones during trial hearings,” Adrianus said.
“It is clear that people here have lost respect for the Indonesian courtroom. It is very different with courts in other countries such as Australia or the United States, where courtroom procedures are highly respected. No cellular phones. No cameras. No talking [among courtroom audiences] during an ongoing trial.”
Criminologist Mohammad Irvan Olii, however, offered a different opinion. He said that as long as the use of the cellular phone during ongoing trial hearings did not produce sounds or had its ring tone switched off, using the cellular phone was allowed.
“As long as the phone doesn’t disrupt trial proceedings, it’s not a problem” Irvan said.
Besides, he said, the use of cellular phones had not been regulated in the Criminal Code Procedures.
“If the [sitting] position of the defendant is not directly facing the panel of judges, which means that he or she is not testifying at that point, the use of a cellular phone is fine,” he said.
Legal expert Andi Asrun said he had expected the presiding judge to issue warnings to everyone inside the courtroom to close their cellular phones, pointing out judges too were not allowed to use their cellular phones during an ongoing trial.
“The presiding judge should have warned the defendant because his conduct violates courtroom discipline,” Andi said.
After three unheeded warnings, Andi said, the defendant could be charged.
“He could even end up with a higher sentence for interfering with the trial hearing.”
He said courtroom visitors are also often a problem.
“They are sometimes supporters of the defendants and cause a ruckus. They should follow the hearing in order.”
Following Wednesday’s hearing, as the case has been in at least two previous hearings, a throng of anti-Ahmadiyah protesters called out and attempted to block the safe exit of witnesses to the attack.