Spy drops defamation suit against Indonesian priest

Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) [Hong Kong]

March 21, 2023

By Union of Catholic News reporter

An Indonesian intelligence official has withdrawn a defamation case against an activist Catholic priest but the priest refused to withdraw the human trafficking allegations he made against the official.

Bambang Panji Priyanggodo, deputy head of the Indonesian State Intelligence Agency for Riau Islands Province, bordering Singapore and Malaysia, withdrew the libel suit on March 18 against Father Chrisanctus Paschalis Saturnus, chairman of the Migrant and Overseas Pastoral Peace Justice Commission of Pangkalpinang Diocese, who accused the official of backing perpetrators of human trafficking.

Ade Darmawan, the official’s lawyer, claimed that Priyanggodo withdrew the case after praying and receiving “instructions to forgive” the priest.

“Our client, in his prayers, asked for an answer. Whether to stop or continue with this case? He chose to withdraw and forgive what Father Paschalis [Saturnus] had done,” Darmawan told journalists on March 19.

He also said the upcoming holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims worldwide fast and pray, also influenced Priyanggodo’s decision.

Priyanggodo “wanted to observe the fasting in peace,” the lawyer claimed.

Saturnus had written to advocacy organizations, informing them of the smuggling of workers through ports close to the borders of Malaysia and Singapore.  

In the letter, the priest alleged the involvement of Priyanggodo, who is working with an intelligence agency in the Riau Islands, a transit hub of illegal migrant workers from Indonesia, heading for Malaysia and Singapore.

Saturnus alleged that Priyanggodo’s intervention resulted in the perpetrators being released in one of the cases to which he was a party. Priyanggodo filed a libel suit against the priest at the beginning of February.

The case has sparked protests, with priests and nuns in several dioceses urging President Joko Widodo to intervene and probe Priyanggodo’s alleged involvement.

Saturnus, who bagged the Witness and Victim Protection Agency Award in 2019 for his work in protecting victims of human trafficking, told UCA News that he had met with Bishop Adrianus Sunarko of Pangkalpinang to discuss the matter. He, however, chose to remain silent on the matter at this time.

But his lawyer Muhammad Ilyas said the withdrawal of the suit “does not affect Father Saturnus’s commitment to fighting human trafficking cases.”

Therefore, he said, the priest was still waiting for a response from the government on his complaint and the alleged involvement of Prianggodo.

Ilyas expressed displeasure at the statement by Priyanggodo’s lawyer that his client “forgives” the priest.

“Please note that there has never been a previous meeting between the two sides. It is important to clarify this so that the public does not misjudge that the two sides seem to have held a meeting to make peace on this issue,” Ilyas said on March 21.

 “From the beginning, we felt that our client was innocent. That’s what makes him fearless,” he said.

Wahyu Susilo, executive director of the Jakarta-based Migrant Care, told UCA News that Proyanggodo should have withdrawn the case because it was weak.

“Instead of forgiving the priest, he should be the one apologizing to the priest,” he said.