Banged up abroad: How Australians negotiate their way out of strife in Indonesia

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From his small cell inside the Simeulue police station in north-west Indonesia, Bodhi Mani Risby-Jones expressed his deep remorse.

“To the victim’s family and the victim, I am extremely sorry,” he said.

“My actions I can’t even fathom. I really want to make it right, and fix the issue. I am sorry.”

The 23-year-old carpenter and keen surfer from Noosa, accused of running amok, sans clothing, in a late-night frenzy that left a villager in hospital, has been locked up there for a week.

He is far from the first foreigner to find trouble in Indonesia, where more than a million Australians have travelled per year, mostly to Bali.

Bodhi Mani Risby-Jones was arrested while on a surfing holiday in Aceh.Credit: Instagram

Even while he has been coming to terms with his predicament another Australian – 47-year-old Brenton Craig Abbas Abdullah McArthur – was detained in the West Java capital of Bandung, alleged to have spat on the face of an imam inside a mosque.

A police case against McArthur was dropped on Thursday after he reportedly apologised and the imam withdrew his complaint, although the Australian could still be deported after he was turned over to immigration officials.

The difference, of course, for Risby-Jones is that he has fallen foul of the law in religiously conservative Aceh. Not only does he face the possibility of multiple years in prison over the alleged assault, but he could also be caned as many as 80 times if police decide to pursue him for being naked in public and for drinking alcohol, which is banned under the province’s Sharia law.

Even so, in Indonesia, where restorative justice is a common outcome for complaint-based crimes, there is a way for the young Queenslander to fix the issue, as he puts it.

Police have said they will drop the case against him if the victim, Edi Ron, chooses to and according to Indonesian news site Kompas the fisherman’s family has laid out a five-point list of demands in a letter to resolve the situation.

It includes Risby-Jones covering the medical expenses of Ron, who needed 50 stitches in his foot after the Australian allegedly knocked him off a motorcycle and pushed it on top of him, and other costs incurred by him and the family while he is recovering and unable to work.

“We will ask the doctor how many months [treatment] is needed [at hospital],” relative Poni Harjo was quoted as saying.

The victim is also reportedly seeking compensation over the incident and an income to be provided if he is permanently or temporarily unable to work so that he can support his wife and children.

Lastly, there is a requirement for a settlement “in line with the tradition that exists in Simeuleu”, the details of which are unclear, although the local village chief has already said the resort where Risby-Jones was staying must slaughter a goat.

“If these points that we propose are accommodated, we think it is the best door to have peace,” Harjo said.

Simeulue police chief detective Mayyuhdi, who goes by one name, said on Thursday the letter had not been received by police.

But Edward Pangkahila, an Indonesian lawyer with significant experience representing Australians arrested in Bali, believes a deal between the alleged perpetrator and victim is the best result.

“As a lawyer, I would prefer and strive [to direct] my client towards restorative justice. It is a win-win situation for everyone. It is also more in line with Indonesian culture, our eastern culture,” he said.

“A peaceful settlement, where all parties will benefit from it. Sending someone to prison should not be the only result.”

Such an arrangement is not an option for foreigners accused of drugs offences, in particular trafficking of narcotics, which can be penalised with a death sentence in Indonesia.

But it is a well-worn avenue in incidences where there is an aggrieved party. NRL player David Fifita is among the highest profile to have had to go down such a route, paying $30,000 in order to be released after three days behind bars in Bali in 2019 for allegedly assaulting a security guard.

David Fifita leaves detention in Bali in 2019.Credit: Amilia Rosa

Among the alleged offenders Pangkahila has negotiated an agreement for was Queensland teenager Zac Whiting, who was also accused of punching a security guard in Bali four years ago.

“Potentially facing prison time in a Bali jail; he was out of his mind,” the lawyer said. “We had to continually calm him down while he was detained at the police lock-up, he kept crying inside his cell.

“We had to assure his panicked parents and at the same time we also had to negotiate our way with the emotional victim and his family.

“Because it was a complainant case, if we could settle with the victim, he could withdraw the police report, then the police couldn’t pursue the case, unlike drug cases.“

Pangkahila said negotiations with a victim required a delicate balance.

“It is not just about physical wounds for the victim,” he said. ” We also have to understand the emotional condition of the victim, and sometimes the higher emotions of the victim’s family witnessing their loved ones victimised. We have to tread carefully.”

Investigators in Aceh, who aren’t as conditioned as those in Bali with foreigners going off the rails, have consulted their counterparts on the holiday island about ho how to handle Risby-Jones’ case.

Bali police spokesman Satake Bayu said he expected reconciliation to be attempted with the involvement of religious leaders and Australian consular officials.

Bali police spokesman Satake Bayu.

“Even in cases like theft, restorative justice can be applied,” he said. “For example, we have had cases where the thief stole food because they were hungry, to feed their families. There were instances where the victim, knowing the reason for the theft, did not wish to pursue it. They will drop it. As police, when they drop their report, we will accommodate it.”

He said a Balinese priest had also recently decided not to follow through with pressing for the prosecution of a foreigner who had assaulted him. But he added that some cases could not be resolved via an agreement between the parties.

“There would be no reason for police to push the case through [if there is a deal],“he said. “But it is case by case, we can’t just generalise it, that all complainant cases will end up with restorative justice.”

with Karuni Rompies

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