BANTEN, INDONESIA: A 58-year-old Indonesian farmer, defending himself against a machete-wielding thief trying to steal his goat, unintentionally causing the thief’s death, now faces a potential 7-year prison term.
The incident transpired on 24 February 2023, but it garnered widespread attention in Indonesia only after the man’s reported detention at Serang Class IIB Detention Center starting on 7 December, sparking concerns over self-defence laws.
Initially, Muhyani, residing in Walantaka, Serang City, Banten, had to report only on Mondays and Thursdays during the investigation.
Self-defence act led to the thief’s demise
At around 4:00 AM Western Indonesia Time (WIB) on 24 Feb, Muhyani, while tending to his lemon cucumber plants, heard a commotion from the goat pen he was overseeing.
Unexpectedly, Muhyani discovered an individual attempting to pilfer his goat. Taken aback and distressed, the perpetrator brandished a machete.
Feeling threatened, Muhyani swiftly seized a nearby pair of scissors and inflicted a stab to the man’s chest.
The individual, later identified as Waldi, attempted to flee alongside his accomplice Pendi, who was waiting outside.
Muhyani pursued the intruder, calling out for assistance from nearby neighbours. Despite Waldi’s successful attempt to escape, the stab wounds inflicted upon him proved fatal.
Subsequently, a resident passing by found Waldi’s lifeless body in a nearby rice field, not far from the incident at around 6 am that day.
Alleged compensation dispute prompts deceased family’s police report
Rosehah, Muhyani’s wife, informed the media that following the discovery of the body, her husband admitted to the deed.
The local neighbourhood chief, Nuraen, subsequently reported the incident to the Walantaka Police.
Nuraen mentioned that initially, Waldi’s family seemed to have accepted the situation. However, they later reported the incident to the police.
Nuraen suspects this change of stance was due to dissatisfaction with the compensation offered by Muhyani’s family, which they deemed insufficient.
Initially, Waldi’s father had requested an amount within Muhyani’s means.
However, when they were provided with Rp 1,000,000 (S$86), they declined, asserting that it did not adequately compensate for the loss of life.
They indicated a willingness to accept only if they were given Rp 50,000,000 (S$4,296).
Police justification: Detention based on potential sentence exceeding five years
According to local media reports, the case was forwarded to the prosecutor’s office last week, leading to the man’s detention.
Muhyani faced charges of causing fatal harm, carrying a potential sentence of 7 years in prison under Article 351, paragraph 3 of the Criminal Code.
Edwar, the Head of the Serang Prosecutor’s Office, explained that Muhyadi’s detention was necessary as the potential sentence exceeded five years.
Additionally, his office lacks the authority to determine the validity of Muhyadi’s self-defence claim, a matter that must be established in court.
Edwar emphasized the gravity of the situation, stating that the cause of death was initially attributed to a stab wound.
However, any claims of justification or self-defence must be substantiated with evidence during the trial.
He clarified that prosecutors cannot act as judges in determining such matters, as they must be thoroughly examined in the courtroom.
Edwar further mentioned that the commencement of the trial is scheduled for January 2024.
In another interview with local media, Serang City Police Chief Kombes Pol Sofwan Hermanto stated that before designating Muhyani as a suspect, investigators interviewed eight witnesses, including criminal experts.
He said that, according to the criminal expert, Muhyani’s act of stabbing the burglar he had caught was not categorised as urgency or overmacht.
Overmacht involves actions not driven by personal choice but compelled by external influences, typically stemming from external pressure.
At that time, said Sofwan, Muhyani was considered to have the opportunity to think of other actions rather than stabbing the thief, for example, loudly calling for help from neighbors or beating the kentongan, which is commonly used as an alarm signal, long-distance communication signal, call to prayer, and danger sign in Indonesia.
Legal expert raises concerns: Self-defence and the Criminal Code’s impact
The news swiftly circulated online, capturing the attention of numerous netizens and highlighting widespread dissatisfaction with Indonesia’s legal justice system.
R. Agung Aditya, a legal consultant, commented on Kumparan.com’s Instagram post, referencing Article 49(1) of the Criminal Code, which states that self-defence against unlawful threats exempts individuals from punishment.
“Article 49, paragraph (1) of the Criminal Code stipulates: “Any individual forced to engage in an act of defence against an unlawful attack or imminent threat, whether directed at themselves, another person, honour (eerbaarheid), or property, shall not be subject to punishment.”
In terms of Islamic law and positive state law, acts of self-defence resulting in injuries or even the death of the perpetrator (the victim) are indeed not subject to punishment (refer to Article 48 of the Criminal Code).
He subsequently commented, “However, the procedure follows a series of stages, involving investigation and a final decision by the judge. It is not a matter of simply getting away with it.”
“The investigation process does not equate to “punishment” or “conviction.” The actual imposition of punishment occurs through the judge’s order after completing the trial process.”
“Relying solely on the confession “I kill because I defend myself” without undergoing an evidentiary process and receiving a judge’s decision could potentially lead to numerous instances of homicide under the pretext of self-defence,” he added.
Public outcry spurs suspension of Muhyani’s detention
Amidst public discontent over police actions, Deputy Chief of Police Sabilul Alif responded by updating Muhyani’s case on Kumparan.com’s Instagram.
He announced the suspension of Muhyani’s detention, citing expert advice in cancelling detention during the investigative phase.
“Appreciating received feedback, the police sought expert advice in handling the incident, leading to the cancellation of detention.”
“Today (13 Dec), I have coordinated with the Chief Prosecutor of Banten to determine subsequent legal steps, guided by the principles of certainty, benefit, and justice.”
Legal counsel expresses confidence in farmer’s acquittal
Separately, Syeh Hendrawan, the farmer’s legal aid counsel on Wednesday expressed confidence in his client’s acquittal, citing self-defence (noodweer) against burglars as grounds.
Noodweer is an excuse that removes the “Unlawful” element from the actions of the person defending himself.
Hendrawan announced the intention to advocate for Restorative Justice, a method addressing criminal offences by engaging perpetrators, victims, and their families to collaboratively pursue a fair resolution, prioritizing restoration over retaliation.
Mr Hendrawan conveyed his optimism, stating, “We hope the complainant chooses forgiveness and engages in restorative justice at the Serang District Attorney’s Office. We plan to submit the case and put forth every possible effort later on.”
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