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A picture of a political trial

Kompas Editorial - March 19, 1997

"Then you leave. The court evicts the accused from the court...", said the presiding judge Asmar Ismail in the subversion trial of PRD activists, Thursday (13/3). The accused Suroso left smiling. Seeing this, defense lawyer Denny Kailimang cleared away his things moving to leave the court room.

"Why be here, because our clients are not here. Because of that we also ask permission to leave the court room", said Kailimang who was quickly answered by Asmar Ismail, "Make a note, that the court also evicts the defense lawyer".

Kailimang protested. He did not want to be noted as evicted by the court. "We are leaving of our own accord, not being evicted", said Kailimang. "Enough, the court says it is also evicting the defense lawyer" said Kailimang ending the already heated debate in the Central Jakarta State Court, Thursday (13/3).

Evictions, "walk-outs", rejecting and withdrawing statements from the Preliminary Investigation Reports (BAPs), have apparently become the model in these political trials. It also occurred in the Surabaya state court. While in the South Jakarta state court in the subversion case against Mochtar Pakpahan, the presiding judge Djazuli Sudibyo was also protested against because of his remarks which were considered to violate the ethics of the trial.

For example, Djazuli referred to the accused in inappropriate terms and with a demeaning tone, such as "You", "Hey", "That person". For example, when a witness Ridwan Saidi was questioned, the judge asked "Do 'you' the witness know that person?" while pointing at the accused Pakpahan with his index finger [pointing at someone with the index finger and use of the familiar "you" is considered rude - JB].

The picture in these political trials are certainly felt to be of concern. The cases have also attracted attention from the international community. This will certainly further create a bad image in the international community with regard to trials in Indonesia.

According to the observations of Trimedya Panjaitan, head of the Service Division of PBHI (Perhimpunan Bantuan Hukum (dan Hak Asasi Manusia, Indonesian Legal Aid Association), the judge's emotional [outbursts] are because he is no longer placing himself in a neutral position and in reality is looking for material proof. "Apparently, the judge has taken an attitude of convicting the accused on the existing 'packet' [the state's case - JB]", said Panjaitan. According to Panjaitan, it is not normal to refer to the accused as "that person", "Hey", and pointing at the accused with the index finger. "Just from that, there is an impression that the judge does not like the accused and must convict him. This isn't right", said Panjaitan.

Meanwhile Sociology professor Dr Satjipto Rahardjo views the evictions, "walk-outs", as already causing the trials not to run smoothly. "But that is the legal process which occurred. That is a valuable lesson for us", said Satjipto.

From the reports the judge became emotional when the accused protested the running of the trial. For example, so many witnesses had their BAPs read out with them being presented in court. This situation is certainly not beneficial for the accused because they cannot cross examine the witness. The accused have also questioned the seriousness of the of the courts to present witnesses. For example, in the trial of Harnoko Dewantono a number of witnesses from the US were able to appear and stay for some time in Jakarta. Also in the case of insulting the president with the accused Sri Bintang Pamungkas. A number of witnesses from Germany were able to be presented. While in the case of the PRD, a number of witness from Indonesia failed to be presented by the prosecution.Satjipto Rahardjo views the PRD cases as politicking. That is apparent from a number of steps taken by the parties. From substantiating their case, a nuance of politics is very evident. "That is not wrong in as far as it doesn't divert from existing regulations", said Satjipto.

The picture of political trials coloured by evictions certainly appears to poorly reflect a trail with is fair, clean and having authority. All the parties in the case are obviously aware, what they are now facing is a political case in presenting a youth group which is not wanted by the authorities. First accused as the mastermind in the July 27 riots, now however in these trials that accusation has never been mentioned.

Thus it is obvious that awareness is needed so that the judge is not easily trapped by emotions which cannot be controlled. Normally trials are an effort to find material proof, not nothing more than an instrument to reach a conviction. The unclear picture of the trial must not become less clear or instead it will be darkened by actions which divert from trial ethics and existing regulations. The ethics of the court and the trial regulations must be given close attention.

[Slightly abridged translation from Kompas - James Balowski]