Medan, Indonesia – Plaintiffs in a landmark air pollution case brought against authorities in the Indonesian capital Jakarta hope they can finally hear a decision in their case, after months of delays, when the court reconvenes on Thursday.
A verdict was supposed to have been rendered on May 20, but it was postponed. A three-judge panel did not deliver a verdict for the eighth time on September 9.
Citing not having finished reading the case documents, Chief Justice H Saifudin Zuhri apologized and referred to the previous delays, which have included various members of the court, such as clerks and judges who contracted COVID-19 and the “overwhelming” amount of court documents and evidence packages.
Istu Prayogi, who now lives in the satellite city of Depok outside Jakarta to escape the worst of the bad air in the Indonesian capital, is one of 32 plaintiffs in the “citizens’ lawsuit” for air pollution that was filed ago. almost two years and aimed to hold the government accountable for failing to guarantee the right of Jakarta residents to breathe clean air.
He previously told Al Jazeera that the dirty air in Jakarta caused him great suffering in the 1990s when he had to deal with frequent shortness of breath, crushing headaches and a stuffy nose. Following the eighth failure to render a verdict, Istu said that while aggressive medication had cured some of his health problems, including spots on his lungs, he was deeply dissatisfied with the legal process and described Indonesian law as a “blunt instrument. “.
“It’s like the law of the jungle if you want to do justice,” he said.
The city, which has an estimated population of more than 10 million people, regularly ranks as one of the most polluted cities in the world according to global air quality indices.
Lack of urgency
Another complainant, Elisa Sutanudjaja, told Al Jazeera that she was “angry and concerned” as a result of the continued delays. Elisa originally became interested in the case after becoming a mother and was concerned first about the effect of the Jakarta smog on her unborn son and then on her young daughter.
“The postponement only adds additional evidence that air pollution problems and the climate crisis are not the state’s top priority, and that the judiciary does not see the issue of poor air quality as urgent,” he said.
“Also, we are in the middle of a pandemic, but the state does not seem to show a commitment to public health.”
Elisa added that she is also concerned that several other environmentally unfriendly projects have been given the green light in the capital city, including a two-story toll road and a waste incinerator, while citizen demand has languished through the court system.
Following the latest postponement, the Clean Air Initiative Coalition, which is made up of the plaintiffs in the citizen lawsuit and their advocacy team, issued a statement expressing dismay at the slow process.
The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Ayu Eza Tiara, said that they had sent a letter to the Judicial Commission and the Control Body of the Supreme Court about the postponement of the verdict and had denounced the three judges, H Saifudin Zuhri, Duta Baskara and Tuty Haryati, for delaying the case and potentially violating the judicial code of ethics.
“We agreed to denounce the panel of judges for alleged violations of the code of ethics, and we also asked the Judicial Commission and the Supreme Court of Justice to monitor the case. Usually a delay occurs only once and only for a period of about a week, but in this case it has taken more than three months for the verdict to be read, ”Ayu said.
He also added that the coalition of legal advisers and plaintiffs were disappointed by the court’s apparent prioritization of other cases, as the verdict of the citizens’ lawsuit was originally postponed until September 13, only to be delayed again until September 16. September.
“In the courtroom the original date was canceled because the panel of judges said that there are many corruption cases that are more urgent than air pollution. That statement is, of course, very sad, ”Ayu said.
Alghifari Aqsa, from the AMAR law firm, which has attended all trial sessions, added that “the long delay in the reading of the verdict in this case could trigger the perception of lobbying by stakeholders outside of court.”
Previously, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan blamed the plaintiffs and Jakarta residents for the pollution in the city. However, there is no evidence of lobbying by the central or provincial governments in this case.
The defendants in the case include the Indonesian President, the Minister of Environment and Forestry, the Minister of the Interior, the Governor of Jakarta and the Governors of Banten and West Java provinces.
Alghifari noted that more than 700 days have passed since the lawsuit was filed on July 4, 2019, and urged the courts to take the case seriously, considering the weight of evidence gathered by the plaintiffs’ legal team.
“The judges should know that this case is very serious because the plaintiffs are victims of air pollution,” Alghifari said. “Then there are the witnesses we brought in and all the data presented that shows that air pollution has a huge effect on our society.”