Jailed for recording her boss’s alleged sexual harassment, this mother wants to inspire women to say no to abuse

Posted at 4:36 PM, Jul 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-18 01:39:08-04

Lombok, Indonesia — When Baiq Nuril Maknun recalls how her boss would call her and talk in detail about how he would have sex with women and what he in turn wanted to do to her, she says she still feels sick.

“It disgusts me. I want to vomit,” she said.

The 41-year-old devout Muslim and mother-of-three recalls in tears how her boss, a principal at the school where she worked as a bookkeeper, would call her into his office and the harassment would begin.

“I would tell him to stop. I don’t want to listen to that,” Nuril told CNN from her home on the Indonesian island of Lombok. “I was scared if I spoke out he would fire me. He knew he had the power.”

It got so bad that Nuril recorded one of the explicit phone calls as evidence of the sexual harassment she said she endured on more than 50 occasions, starting in 2012.

The recording, she says, was forwarded by a colleague to the local Department of Education. Shortly after, Nuril was fired from her job and her boss sued her for defamation.

Nuril — who says she put up with the sexual harassment for more than a year — spent two months in jail during the initial investigation in 2017.

A district court found her not guilty in 2017 but prosecutors launched an appeal with the nation’s highest court, which ruled last year that the recording broke the country’s Law on Information and Electronic Transactions (ITE). All internet activities in Indonesia are regulated under the law, which makes it a criminal offense for a person to distribute or transmit electronic information or documents that violate decency.

Earlier this month Nuril lost her final appeal and the country’s Supreme Court sentenced her to six months in prison and ordered her to pay a 500 million rupiah (more than $35,000) fine.

“How can someone who’s the victim … be guilty? The law is supposed to protect me not put me in jail,” Nuril said.

Adding to the injustice was her alleged harasser did not face legal repercussions. He is now a public official following a promotion to a position in the city government, according to Nuril’s lawyer Joko Jumadi.

CNN reached out to Nuril’s former boss who would not comment, only saying, “I let God solve this problem.”

Nuril’s lawyer told CNN that the system is completely wrong.

“Baiq Nuril is a victim and she was criminalized. The perpetrator was free. He even got a promotion,” Joko said.

For Nuril, a stoic and proud woman who lives in a small village surrounded by rice paddies and corn fields, just outside Mataram on the popular tourist island of Lombok, life revolves around family and religion. She makes sure her children take part in evening prayers and teaches them the ways of her faith, which has been a source of strength throughout her ordeal.

The criminal case hit Nuril hard but it was her children that kept her going.

“I thought about suicide when I was riding my motorbike. What if it hit that bridge and crash into the water? All of my problems would be gone,” she said sobbing.

Nuril relied on her $75-a-month bookkeeper wage at the school to help support her family.

Her case has sparked a wave of support from local and international rights groups who are bringing Nuril’s plight onto the world stage with the campaign #SaveBuNuril.

Calls for President Joko Widodo to grant her amnesty grew louder — a petition calling on him to grant Nuril amnesty has attracted well over 300,000 signatures.

Because of how high profile her case had become, Nuril was not transferred to prison to serve her sentence immediately following the ruling and she has not served the six month sentence.

Speaking to CNN last week, President Joko revealed that he would grant Nuril amnesty “as soon as possible.”

“I respect the decision of the court but when it’s related to my authority, I will use my authority to give amnesty to Baiq Nuril,” Joko said, adding that her case “must be well researched first.”

When pushed whether he would grant her amnesty, Joko said, “yes if I have to do it then I will do it, why not? As soon as possible.”

If granted, Nuril’s lawyer said the conviction would be quashed.

Joko has previously told local media that he would consider granting her amnesty if the case reached his desk, according to CNN Indonesia.

When she heard that the president was likely to grant her amnesty, Nuril told CNN that, “It feels like somebody gave me a mountain of good.”

Amid a media frenzy, Nuril and her legal team traveled to Jakarta Monday to deliver a formal letter requesting amnesty from President Joko, CNN Indonesia reports. The President then sent a letter recommending amnesty for Nuril to the House of Representatives, who were set to review the amnesty this week. Video from SAFEnet (Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network) showed Nuril breaking down in tears after hearing Joko had signed the letter of recommendation.

An endemic problem

The sexual harassment Nuril allegedly endured is not uncommon in Indonesia.

The National Commission on Violence Against Women (known as Komnas Perempuan) found that 260,000 cases of sexual violence including harassment were reported in 2018, though they believe unreported cases could be at least five times that number.

And findings from a UNFPA-supported survey commissioned by Indonesia’s Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry in 2017, found that over 41% of Indonesian women have experienced at least one of four types of violence — physical, sexual, emotional or economic — in her lifetime.

Nuril’s experience with Indonesia’s justice system has made her aware that she is not alone. After she was released from jail Nuril said many women approached her to share similar stories of harassment.

“Some of them realized that sexual harassment isn’t just physical, it’s verbal as well. Now they understand,” she said. “Many of them were touched … most by their boss. And were too scared to fight back.”

Nuril’s lawyer said there are fundamental flaws with a system that makes it difficult for women who are abused or harassed to find justice.

Those barriers include a culture of victim blaming from a deeply patriarchal and religious society that often deters women from speaking out or reporting crimes against them.

“In Indonesia, a lot of victims are scared to report and a lot of victims who go to police don’t get their rights,” the lawyer says. “It’s hard to prove the sexual harassment case happened to the women. The law system cannot protect them.”

Speaking to CNN, President Joko says that he thought laws that enabled victims to go to jail were “not correct and not good.”

“But it happens in a country as big as Indonesia. I think that’s why people like to continue to overcome the problem,” he said.

At their home in Lombok, Nuril’s technician husband, Isnaini, says he is proud of his wife for inspiring other women.

“I hope because of this case, more and more Indonesian women have the courage to speak up,” he told CNN.

He, like many women’s rights activists, wants the law to be reformed. “The victim became the prisoner,” he said.

There are moves to strengthen Indonesia’s sexual violence laws. A proposed anti-sexual violence bill from the Komnas Perempuan is currently under discussion in parliament but it faces strong opposition from conservative and religious groups who argue the legislation violates Muslim values and promotes sex outside of marriage.

An online petition calling on parliament to reject the Draft Law on the Elimination of Sexual Violence has been signed by more than 165,000 people.

There are also renewed calls from the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform and other civil society groups to reform the law — which Nuril was charged under. Critics say its vague wording violates freedom of expression and puts vulnerable people, such as victims of sexual violence, at risk of being prosecuted.

“The number of cases where ITE Law are enforced to criminalize innocent people is increasing, resulting a threat to freedom of expression,” the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform said to CNN. “The ITE Law has indeed been widely enforced for private matters among citizens, leading to limit freedom of expression, some of which are even being enforced in the context of revenge.”

For Nuril, her ordeal has made her determined to continue fighting.

“You have to fight back don’t be scared because there are a lot of people who support,” she said.

“If we don’t fight back and speak up, then who will? You have to be brave.”