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Indonesian Catholic group seeks action against 'rapist' regent

Claims senior local government official married 21-year-old victim to evade stringent Sexual Violence Crime Law

Hi Muhammad Thaher Hanubun (center), head of Southeast Maluku Regency.

Hi Muhammad Thaher Hanubun (center), head of Southeast Maluku Regency. (Photo: official website)

Published: September 27, 2023 06:01 AM GMT

Updated: September 27, 2023 06:46 AM GMT

A Catholic lay body and an indigenous forum in Indonesia have urged police to prosecute a senior government official who they say raped a woman and then later married her to escape a stringent law on gender-based violence.

The Catholic Youth group in eastern Maluku province on Sept. 25 sought action against Hi Muhammad Thaher Hanubun, the 65-year-old regent of Southeast Maluku, who is accused of raping a 21-year-old cafe waitress.

The group said that an out-of-court "resolution" is banned under the Sexual Violence Crime Law which states that sex crimes cannot be resolved outside court, unless the perpetrator is a child.

Facing trial is mandatory under the law, enacted in 2022 following a hike in gender-based violence in the Muslim-majority nation, Catholic Youth said in a statement.

The maximum punishment under the law is 15 years in jail for sexual exploitation, 12 years for sexual abuse, nine years for forced marriage and four years for distributing non-consensual sexual content.

Gender-based violence saw a two-fold increase from 38 cases in 2021 to 68 in 2022 in the Southeast Asian nation.

According to police, Hanubun raped the girl at a cafe in Ambon, the capital of Maluku province that encompasses the central and southern Maluku Islands, in April.

In August, Hanubun allegedly made another attempt to force himself on her which resulted in the victim being sacked from her job at the cafe.

She was shown the door following a complaint by Hanubun to the cafe owner. In his capacity as regent, Hanubun heads a second-level administrative sub-division in Maluku province. 

After the girl filed a complaint with police on Sept. 1, many people, including Women's Empowerment and Child Protection Minister Bintang Puspayoga supported her.

However, on Sept. 5, she withdrew the complaint.

Last week, local media reported that Hanubun had married his victim, a prevalent practice in the Muslim-majority nation to evade the law. Polygamy is permitted by Indonesia's Marriage Law.

Andy Yentriyani, chairwoman of the state-run National Commission on Violence Against Women, said the Hanubun case shows a pattern where the perpetrator marries the victim to avoid legal proceedings.

Catholic Youth urged police to stop giving "the perpetrator the opportunity to repeat his actions."

The Kei tribal community in Maluku province, to which Hanubun is a member, also sought action against the high-ranking official.

"His actions have violated local customs, where women should be respected and protected," said Hironimus Ulukyanan, spokesperson of the Southeast Maluku Community Forum.

Kei tribal people are ethnic religionists and venerate spirits of the dead. Women are considered the soul of the Kei culture.

Indonesia has one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the world with more than 750 indigenous groups, many of whom follow Islam.

Roem Ohoirat, spokesperson for the Maluku Regional Police, said police have not stopped legal proceedings against Hanubun.

Hanubun refused to respond despite repeated attempts by UCA News for comment.

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