Prosecutors stunned the courtroom audience on Monday when they demanded a mere six-month jail term for defendant Murhali Barda, one of 13 men standing trial for an attack on leaders of the Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) in Bekasi last September.
Murhali is the suspended head of the Bekasi chapter of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI). He was initially accused of inciting the attack through text messages and radio speeches as well as through his personal Facebook page.
The Sept. 12 attack saw the stabbing of Asia Sihombing and beating of Luspida Simandjuntak, both of whom are leaders of the congregation.
“We are recommending that Murhali be jailed for a maximum of six months, minus the time he has already spent in prison and fined Rp 1,000 [$0.11] in damages,” prosecutor Priorentha told the court hearing, saying Murhali had been proven guilty of violating Article 335 on unpleasant conduct. The article carries a maximum jail term of one year.
“He is a known cleric. He is guilty of encouraging his followers, whether through text messages or Facebook updates. But not a single eyewitness has said the cleric had issued instructions to attack the church leaders.”
Priorentha added that the mitigating factors prosecutors considered for Murhali were his politeness and good behavior in court and the fact that he had four small children who still needed his parental guidance.
“What has been proven against Murhali is that he had joined the protests against the HKBP, carried out orations rejecting the HKBP and their activities in Ciketing and sent out invitations to people to join protests,” he said.
Aside from violation of Article 335 on unpleasant conduct, Murhali had previously also been accused of violating Articles 170 and 160. Article 170 on assault and destruction of property carries a punishment of up to five years and six months. Article 160 on written or verbal provocation carries a maximum sentence of six years. Prosecutors decided not to include those charges.
Murhali’s lawyer, Shalih Manggara Sitompu,l said the sentence demand proved Murhali’s innocence in terms of provocation and damage to property as well as assault on the leaders.
“If Murhali had really violated the law, why did the prosecutors simply say he was guilty of [violating] Article 335, and did not mention Articles 170 and 160?” the lawyer said.
Prosecutors demanded harsher sentences for other defendants in the case.