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In Prison – but out of Prison, in Indonesia

By: Norbert Klein Posted: January-26-2011 in
Norbert Klein

The Mirror, Vol. 15, No. 701

On 16.1.2011, The Mirror carried a report about a former head of the provincial police of Ratanakiri who should be in prison – convicted for 13 years – but who was reported to have been out of prison, driving a car, and seriously injuring three persons.

The last report I had read was a claim by local officials, saying that investigations are still going on, including doubts that the convict was driving the car – contrary to the claims by several witnesses. Maybe the story will be picked up later.

A similar story which had been reported in The Jakarta Globe on the same day of 16.1.2011 relates to a former tax official, Gayus Tambunan, convicted and imprisoned for embezzlement, who had been caught on a photograph, showing that he was watching an international tennis tournament in Bali. After his new arrest, it was revealed that he had also traveled to Kuala Lumpur, Macau, and Singapore, after bribing prison guards to let him out.

This story of embezzlement, and bribes to get out of prison, might not have received wide national attention, if another culprit, Bona Paputungan, serving time in a prison for domestic violence, would not have made a song which is now on the Internet and on radio, where he comments on the justice system, corrupted by money. The message is all over the media.

Click on the following link to see the video:

A rough translation of the song “Andai Aku Gayus” from the Indonesian original:

  • On 11 March, I went to prison,
    For my first detention, sentenced.
    Life in prison was hard,
    I withered away, thinking a lot of what I had done.
    We are weak who have no power to do anything about it.
    We cannot do what those who are corrupt can do:


  • If I were Gayus Tambunan I could go to Bali,
    All my wishes would be fulfilled.
    It is strange that in this country justice can be bought.
    Those who cannot afford it can only surrender.

    On 7 October I came free from jail,
    I breathe fresh air, no more suffering.
    O brothers and best friends:
    Do your best, do not go into the wrong direction.


  • Let us all remember this,
    Bitter memories of this life.
    If I were Gayus Tambunan I could go to Bali,
    All my wishes would be fulfilled.
    It is strange that in this country justice can be bought.
    Those who cannot afford it can only surrender.

Very recently, Bona Paputungan filed a police report after having received threatening phone calls that claim to come from a member of the police, after he had been interviewed on TV. “I felt threatened so I reported it to the police, accompanied by some journalists who overheard the phone call,” he said. “The caller said my song had caused a disturbance across the country.”

Why is it disturbing a country, when serious problems, disregarding laws and regulations, are brought to public attention? Why is it not taken as a challenge leading to correct what is perceived to be wrong?

The US based organization Human Rights Watch published its World Report 2011. The Cambodia section starts with these words:

Events of 2010

The Cambodian government increased its repression of freedoms of expression, assembly, and association in 2010, tightening the space for civil society to operate.

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) used the judiciary, new laws, and threats of arrest or legal action to restrict free speech, jail government critics, disperse workers and farmers peacefully protesting, and silence opposition party members.

Cambodia also regressed in respecting international rights treaties. In December 2009 the government deported 20 Uighur asylum seekers at risk of torture and mistreatment to China, violating Cambodia’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention. The controversial refoulement took place on the eve of a visit by senior Chinese officials that finalized a massive aid package to Cambodia.

Instead of taking up the specific cases in the report, or some grievances raised in the Cambodian public – where even the Minister of Information called that the confiscation of professional equipment from journalists during a press conference would be permitted only if there were a basis in law or in a court decision – the spokesperson of the Council of Ministers, Mr. Phay Siphan, commented on the Human Rights Watch report , “It’s just rhetoric, not the truth.” And the deputy chairperson of the Human rights committee of Cambodia, Mr. Mak Sambath, is also reported to have rejected the report:

“I completely reject the report. Cambodia is a paradise for expression.”

Norbert KLEIN

This article was first published by The Mirror, Vol. 15, No. 701 – Wednesday, 26.1.2011
Have a look at the last editorial - you can access it directly from the main page of The Mirror.

Norbert Klein is the Editor of The Mirror – The Mirror carries regular reports and comments from Cambodia - More about The Mirror


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