Jakarta, Indonesia – Indonesians continue to hold their breath as they await the outcome of a historic legal battle over who is responsible for Jakarta’s dirty air after a panel of judges delayed its decision for the second time in two months .
The citizen lawsuit was filed in 2019 with the aim of hold the Indonesian government accountable for air pollution in the Indonesian capital.
In legal files, the 32 plaintiffs listed in the lawsuit also called for authorities to be forced to improve the city’s air quality – which regularly reaches dangerous levels according to air quality indices – through to stricter regulations and penalties.
The case has been marred by delays in recent months. The plaintiffs initially awaited a verdict on May 20, before the judges pronounced a first postponement until June 10. On Thursday it was postponed again – until June 24.
At the hearing in Jakarta Central District Court, Chief Justice Saifuddin Zuhri blamed the delay on the large number of documents filed in the case, telling the court that the three-judge panel needed more time. to read all the legal literature.
“I hope you can accept that we can’t read the verdict today. Therefore, we have agreed to postpone the decision for two weeks, ”he said during the hearing of just over three minutes, which was released to the public via Zoom due to coronavirus protocols.
In a press release issued by the Clean Air Initiative Coalition, which is made up of the plaintiffs in the citizen suit and their advocacy team, the plaintiffs’ legal counsel, Ayu Eza Tiara, said she was surprised and disappointed. .
“Reading a verdict that takes up to eight weeks is not something that can be considered reasonable,” she said. “This delay is clear evidence of poor time management… and a violation of the principle of a quick, simple and inexpensive trial.
“If we refer to the adage ‘justice delayed, justice denied’… a slow court process will certainly not do justice to the parties. Therefore, we hope that the panel of judges will not procrastinate in the future. “
One of the 32 plaintiffs involved in the trial, Elisa Sutanudjaja, told Al Jazeera that the repeated delays only served to strengthen the premises of the case.
“As far as I am concerned, the postponement is further proof that air pollution and the climate crisis are not the main priorities of the state, and even the justice does not consider poor air quality as an urgent problem, ”she said.
The case has been controversial since its filing in 2019, in part because the defendants include the President of Indonesia, the Minister of Environment and Forests, the Minister of the Interior, the Governor of Jakarta and the governors of the Banten provinces. and West Java.
Defendants have also sought to cast doubt on their responsibility in the dirty air of Jakarta, with Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan even going so far as to blame the plaintiffs themselves for having contributed to the thick smog that regularly covers the city.
Istu Prayogi, who previously told Al Jazeera that he was diagnosed with spotting in his lungs and suffered from headaches and congestion after living in Jakarta in the 1990s, said he felt that the court took advantage of legal loopholes to avoid making a decision.
“This is the judicial process that we expect in Indonesia,” he said. “The panel of judges should have been able to deliver a verdict, but since they had the option to postpone it, they used that option to save time.”
Other observers of the case wondered if the panel of three judges was locked in a legal impasse, which would also explain the repeated delays.
Indonesian law follows the civil law system and uses a mixture of Dutch colonial law, customary law and modern Indonesian law. There is no jury in Indonesian courts and all verdicts, both in civil and criminal cases, are rendered by a panel of judges.
“The length of the verdict and the repeated delays make us suspect that there is a difficult debate within the panel of judges on whether to side with a healthy environment or to continue to let the Jakartans breathe air. polluted, ”Dwi Sawung, of the Energy and Urban campaign director of the Indonesian Environment Forum (WALHI), said in a statement.
“However, residents are anxiously awaiting the decision of the panel of judges to ensure the future of the quality of the air we breathe in Jakarta.”