With the case against 46-year-old Muhsan in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, coconuts are joining sandals, cacao pods, bananas and plates as items of evidence in the prosecution of trivial crimes in Indonesian courts.
Muhsan, who recently went back to his birthplace in Aik Bual village, Central Lombok, after more than two decades in Malaysia as a migrant laborer, has been waiting in a prison cell for the past three months to stand trial for allegedly stealing five young coconuts.
Last week he had his first day in court, followed by a second hearing on Tuesday.
According to the prosecution, the coconuts were worth about Rp 2,000 (22 cents) each, and Muhsan faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison for the several clauses of the criminal code he is accused of breaking.
Muhsan, however, insists that the coconuts belonged to him.
“I am accused of stealing five coconuts from my own garden, from coconut trees that I planted myself,” he said from behind bars on Tuesday. “I’m bewildered that I could be accused, reported and suddenly detained.”
The documents presented in court said that while Muhsan was away in Malaysia, his family sold part of their coconut plantation to a buyer named Amaq Seneng.
But Muhsan said he was not aware of that land sale, which amounted to just 19 are — a local land measurement equal to 100 square meters — of the family’s 84- are plantation.
Furthermore, Muhsan said, his family never received payment for the sale and had been single-handedly maintaining the plantation ever since.
Even so, at the second hearing of Muhsan’s case, prosecutor Eli Tutik Sasmita insisted on pursuing the theft charges, even after learning that the land was the subject of an ownership dispute.
Muhsan is being represented by a team of 13 pro bono lawyers from the Indonesian Advocate and Lawyer Association (HAPI).
Respected jurist Jimly Asshiddiqie commented on the recent spate of trivial prosecutions, saying they demonstrated a failure to understand the meaning and purpose of the justice system.
“Investigators, prosecutors and judges should have an internal sense of justice, for goodness’ sake,” Jimly, the ex-chief of the Constitutional Court, said during a seminar at the Judicial Commission of Indonesia on Sunday.
“For example, if a [trivial] case is passed on by the police, the public prosecutors should be bigger than that, and if they pass the case on, then the judges should be prepared to rely on their sense of justice and take creative steps to achieve it,” he continued. “Their approach to the law appears to be mechanistic and procedural; they are not creative.”
The country’s police force has recently received international media criticism after a teenager was convicted of stealing a pair of sandals from a police officer in Central Sulawesi.
Central Java police officers also recently charged a pair of mentally disabled boys for stealing 15 bananas and a 55-year-old grandmother with stealing three cacao pods.