In the past 20 years, the Indonesian Redemptorist priest and lawyer Father Paulus Dwiyaminarta has handled more than 1,000 legal cases.
These included criminal and civil cases dealing with environmental degradation, land conflicts, human trafficking, domestic violence and forced marriage, said the 52-year-old priest, who lives on the Christian-majority island of Sumba in East Nusa Tenggara province.
On average, he handles more than 100 cases per year and has a high success rate. His services are free and he prioritizes people with limited access to justice.
Subscribe to your daily free newsletter from UCA News
Many Thanks. You are now registered for the daily newsletter
“The vast majority are poor and marginalized people,” he told UCA News.
In doing so, he faced threats and intimidation from the people, groups and organizations he acted against or from those who support them. They ranged from physical threats to social media smear campaigns to discredit him.
Father Dwiyaminarta said it was part of the territory and encouraged him to be more courageous in the struggle for “truth, humanity and justice.”
He responded to a call to help marginalized injustice in struggle and to overcome any obstacles the legal system might throw on them.
“I am practicing the law because I realized that it teaches values in the gospels that should be observed in daily life,” said Father Dwiyaminarta, who joined the Redemptorists in 1988 and was ordained a priest in 1996.
The priest, who studied theology and philosophy at Jesuit-run Sanata Dharma University in Yogyakarta, said he was inspired by his community’s founder, St. Alphonse Liguori, an 18th-century Italian bishop who was his Life devoted to the preaching of the Gospels to the marginalized neglected.
“Many people face injustices or difficulties in accessing justice, so becoming a lawyer seemed like a natural path,” said Father Dwiyaminarta, who graduated from Jakarta’s Law School in 1999 and graduated in 2001.
It is something that he has been interested in since his seminary days and that the church should be actively involved in if it is to promote gospel values, he added.
He acknowledged that few priests participate in the law because most are content only to preach the values of the gospel rather than to apply them in everyday life.
“Where there is injustice, the church is called upon to get involved and preach the good news,” said the priest, who is director of the Sarnelli Institute, a church-run legal aid service in Sumba that was founded in 2009.
The institute is named after the Blessed Yanuarius Sarnelli (1702-42), an Italian lawyer and Redemptorist from Naples who worked for the city’s poor and homeless.
It is only right that the church get embroiled in legal matters as injustice still occurs and provides the perfect stage to be a voice for the voiceless.
He pointed to forced marriage as an example. It’s a problem that has become almost so common in East Nusa Tenggara Province that it’s often not reported, he said.
The priest said his team only handled four cases, only one of which involving an 18-year-old girl resulted in a conviction.
The girl escaped after being held for three days. The five men who abducted her were detained for three years.
When asked what frustrates him the most, he said, “We sometimes get seemingly unfair court decisions. I’m afraid there might be legitimate interests ensuring my clients don’t do justice to what mustn’t happen. “
He also said that there are many cases where people simply surrender to the court’s decision even though they are not guilty, either because they do not know the law or because they are disappointed with those who should protect them.
Better cooperation between all the elements involved could solve such problems, he said, adding that it’s not just about giving voice to the voiceless, it’s also about making sure the voice is heard.