Friday, April 26, 2002

Indonesia's hopes for justice

A number of rich and famous people are on trial

By Andreas Harsono
In Jakarta

The number of Indonesian VIPs under arrest or facing trial - from parliamentary speaker Akbar Tandjung to the son of former President Suharto - has raised hopes that Indonesia is finally adopting the rule of law.

But legal specialists and human rights activists warn that most high profile suspects in the past have in fact walked free. Legal loopholes and corrupt and incompetent law enforcement officials are to blame.

"Their initial arrest is widely publicised in the media but after months of prosecutions and trial sessions, one by one they escaped justice. Only two major corruption cases have so far resulted in convictions," according to Teten Masduki of Indonesia Corruption Watch.

Star suspects
Prominent suspects have included former President Suharto himself, central bank governor Syahril Sabirin, several former ministers, high ranking military officers and Suharto supporters like businessmen Bob Hasan and Hashim Djojohadikusumo, who until three years ago controlled two of the country's biggest business groups.

Mr Suharto never turned up to his trial and the case was finally discarded due to illness.

Mr Sabirin, despite being found guilty of corruption and sentenced to three years' jail, is still a free man and continues in his post at the central bank.

Only Mr Hasan was sentenced and is now serving time in a prison island for corruption.

In another high-profile case, seven men have been charged with genocide and crimes against humanity for a massacre in East Timor in 1999. But some analysts say the court case is so weak they are expected to walk free.

Sidney Jones of the New York-based Human Rights Watch said: "The judges were poorly chosen, the prosecutors have shown no interest in accountability, the defence is likely to take advantage of an array of legal loopholes."

Legal loopholes
Loopholes are a big part of the problem.

Nono Anwar Makarim of the Aksara Foundation, a Jakarta think tank, said judges, "influenced by political and monetary factors", adhere to often absurd legal technicalities to get suspects off the hook.

Mr Makarim, a retired lawyer who trained at Harvard University, tells a joke popular among Jakarta lawyers to illustrate his point.

It is about a man who killed another man. There were 15 witnesses who testified to seeing the killing. The forensic test showed a bullet missing from the suspect's gun was found in the victim's head.

"But the judges set the man free because the gun has no Indonesian license. It means the gun legally does not exist in Indonesia," explained Mr Makarim.

Politics and greed
The "political factor" refers to the way that President Megawati Sukarnoputri is only keen to press for legal action as long as it does not destabilise her coalition government.

In the case of Mr Tandjung, accused of misusing government funds to finance a campaign for his Golkar party - part of that coalition - Megawati was initially reluctant to press the Tandjung case. But public pressures were too great to be ignored.

The "monetary factor" is a reference to bribes.

It is an open secret in Indonesia that prosecutors, police and judges are all given back-handers.

Mr Masduki calls the system "court mafia". Lawyers function more like middlemen who pay bribes to judges. Of course not all judges are corrupt. Many prosecutors and police are trying to bring honour back to their professions.

But being honest is not easy.

Tommy Suharto is accused of ordering the contract killing of Judge Syafiuddin Kartasasmita because he had refused to be bribed.

Tommy Suharto denies the charges.

www.bbc.co.uk

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