Landmark Prosecutions But Low Fines For Critically Endangered Tortoise Trafficking In Indonesia

Frequently trafficked Malagasy tortoises aren’t protected under Indonesia’s wildlife laws, though they should be, but recent court judgements are sending a clear warning that there is still a price to be paid for bringing the reptiles into Indonesia illegally.

In two separate landmark court cases, Indonesian judges have given two men caught with Malagasy tortoises prison time and fines for flouting Indonesia’s quarantine law, specifically Article 5 of the Law of Republic of Indonesia No. 16/1992 on Animal, Fish and Plant Quarantine.

These are Indonesia’s first known convictions for an offence involving tortoises which are both Critically Endangered and prohibited from commercial international trade through their listing on Appendix I of CITES.

On August 27th the East Jakarta Court handed Daniel Rooseno a three-month suspended prison sentence to be served on probation for six months, and one million IDR1 (USD$65) for negligently receiving two Radiated Tortoises without a health certificate from the country of origin or transit.

On the October 4th the Central Jakarta District Court sentenced Rudy Hartono to a five-month suspended prison sentence to be served on probation for 10 months, and a fine of IDR5,000,000 (USD $328) for possession of one Ploughshare Tortoise and five Radiated Tortoises, one of which was dead.

The move by Indonesian authorities to prosecute the men under quarantine rather than wildlife laws overcomes an Indonesian legal loophole that does not penalize the illegal possession of non-native species, which includes thousands of CITES-listed species.

“These cases mark a new beginning for Indonesia in its fight against wildlife crime, and we commend Indonesian Authorities for taking this on,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, Director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia, in a statement. “But, this should only be considered an alternative or stop-gap measure until Indonesia’s laws are amended to include protection for non-native species like the Malagasy tortoises.

Although the cases represented a positive development, the fines and jail times handed out by the courts in both cases were far below the maximum sentences available.

Any person who willfully violates Article 5 of the Law is punishable by a maximum imprisonment of three years in prison in addition to a maximum fine of IDR150,000,000 (USD $10,400). Any person, who due to negligence, violates the provisions of Article 5 is punishable by both maximum imprisonment of one year in addition to a maximum fine of IDR50,000,000 (USD $3,500).

“The sentences are very disappointing. They will not serve as a deterrent for those well entrenched in the illegal and lucrative trade of this highly threatened species,” said Krishnasamy. “We urge prosecutors to seek tougher penalties in these cases.”

As per the organization, the Government is appealing the verdict in Hartono’s case.

A TRAFFIC study released just the month before reported that there were 4,985 individuals of 65 different species of tortoise and freshwater turtles on sale in seven locations in Jakarta over a four-month period. This survey in 2015 found 486 Radiated Tortoises for sale in shops in Indonesia’s capital city.

Ploughshare Tortoises observed for sale in Jakarta were priced between U.S. $7,001 to U.S. $28,003 for an individual and between U.S. $516 and US $7,369 for a Radiated Tortoise.

In August 2018, the Indonesian government passed a revised list of protected species under its wildlife protection legislation, but it did not include species not native to the country, including thousands that are regulated under CITES.

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