Jakarta: Indonesians have found a new symbol for their growing frustration at uneven justice in their young, democratic nation: cheap, worn-out flip-flops.
They have been dropping them off at police stations all over the sprawling archipelago to express outrage over the arrest and trial of a 15-year-old boy for lifting an old pair of white sandals from outside a boarding house used by police in northern Indonesia.
"This is insane," said Titis Anissa, a high school teacher in the capital, Jakarta, noting that government officials found guilty of plundering state coffers get off with a slap on the wrist. "And a young, poor boy takes a pair of $3 sandals? Enough already!"
The boy snatched the shoes while he and several friends headed home from school in Palu, the capital of Central Sulawesi province, in November 2010.
He was later interrogated and badly beaten by three officers, and faces up to five years in prison if found guilty — the same sentence given to many terrorists, drug pushers and rapists.
He will appear Wednesday before the court in Palu for the second hearing of his trial, which opened last month.
Indonesia has made tremendous strides since the ouster of longtime dictator Suharto just over a decade ago, implementing sweeping reforms that have freed up the media, scrapped oppressive laws and given citizens the right to directly pick their leaders for the first time.
But the judicial system remains a weak point. The flip-flop case has captured headlines since the trial began and is one of the most popular trends on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Thousands have joined in the sandal donation protest.
A batch of 1,000 flip-flops will be given to Sgt. Ahmad Rusdi Harahap, owner of the stolen shoes, as "compensation," said campaign organizer Budhi Kurniawan.
The boy, not identified by name because of his age, said he found the dirty old flip-flops near a garbage bin outside the boarding house. Six months later, he was summoned by Harahap, who accused him of theft.
"At first, I didn`t understand what he was talking about," he said. "I`d forgotten all about those sandals."
"He called a few of his colleagues and they started beating me up, hitting me with a piece of wood," he said. "I fell into a steep trench. My legs were bleeding."
The boy said the officers made him promise to give each a new pair of sandals, but his father, after seeing the cuts and bruises on his son`s body, decided to report the men to their superiors.
Harahap, who along with the other two officers is facing charges of violating police ethics, responded by taking the teenager to criminal court.
It was a move Andreas Harsono, of the New York-based group Human Rights Watch, said was obviously "excessive" and vindictive.
Ayu Laksmi, a Balinese artist, brought 10 pairs of sandals to the National Commission for Child Protection on Tuesday to show her displeasure.
"This just goes to show, once again, that our laws discriminate," she said. "It`s tough on the poor and weak when it comes to those with money or power."
The teenager is not the first minor to face trial over a small criminal offense.
Last year, a 14-year-old boy was brought to court after spending three weeks in a Jakarta prison for allegedly stealing a $1.15 cellphone voucher.
Judges finally dropped the charges, arguing the investigation of the case was "defective."