Indonesian Law Goes Bananas Again as 76-Year-Old Man Jailed for Fruit Theft

The country’s justice system has once again found itself uncomfortably in the spotlight, this time over the arrest and jailing of a Yogyakarta grandfather for plucking a bunch of bananas from a tree he believed was growing on public land. As public outrage continues over alleged high-level corruption involving members of the nation’s elite, 76-year-old Klijo Sumarto has become the latest victim of a legal system that many observers say favors those with the money and connections to buy their way out of trouble. “[Klijo’s] status is that he has been temporarily detained under Article 362 of the Criminal Code for stealing,” said Adj. Comr. Yulham Effendi, the chief investigator for the Slemen Police in Yogyakarta. “He’s facing five years in prison. All of the proper procedures have been followed in this case.” The latest case in the special province follows a similarly controversial case in Central Java involving Minah, 55, an illiterate grandmother of seven, who was charged with stealing three pieces of fruit from a plantation company and placed under house arrest for 18 days before receiving a suspended sentence. In this latest case, Klijo was arrested and locked up in Slemen Prison. Klijo told the Jakarta Globe he was innocent. “The banana tree was growing on a village road. It wasn’t even on anybody’s land,” he said. “Besides, the tree had almost collapsed and was ready to fall on the road,” Klijo said, adding that he had chopped down the tree. He said he was taking the bananas home on his bike when he was warned against doing so by some passersby, so he placed the bunch beside the tree. Klijo, a small, frail-looking man who is visually impaired, said he did not understand why he was subsequently arrested. He said he was told by members of his family that Sulis, the owner of a paddy field near the banana tree, was responsible for reporting him to authorities. Yulham, however, defended the arrest, and described Klijo as a “habitual offender.” “Four years ago he was taken to court for stealing a chicken,” the officer said. “His excuse was that the chicken had been carried away by a flood and got stuck in a ditch near his house.” Yulham said that because others had witnessed Klijo taking the bananas, even without Sulis’s complaint, police were obliged to arrest the suspect. “Even if it is a small case, the law must be enforced,” he said. Akhnandari Malisy, a member of Legal Aid Institute (LBH) of Yogyakarta Indonesian Advocates Congress, said the case failed to take into account the public’s sense of justice.

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