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Murder case bares corrupt trail

Sydney Morning Herald - November 18, 1997

Louise Williams – It is not clear how the police came to choose the driver when they stopped his car outside the central Javanese city of Yogyakarta and activated the plan in which he was charged with murder, carrying a maximum penalty of death.

Dwi Sumadji, who worked for a small advertising company, was taken to a local hotel, plied with alcohol, offered a prostitute and told he would be paid if he confessed to killing a local journalist, who had exposed corruption within the local government office.

"Iwik", as Dwi Sumadji is known, signed and was promised a reward, to be paid by the Regent of the local government area of Bantul. His purported crime was killing Mr Fuad Muhammad, a prominent local journalist who had exposed the corrupt practices of the Regent.

In August last year, Mr Fuad was beaten to death in front of his wife, just outside their home. The charge against Iwik was premeditated murder, carrying a maximum penalty of execution by firing squad.

At the time Iwik was charged, it seemed likely to become just another terrible injustice in a legal system overridden by political power and connections. It was a chilling warning to other journalists who might try to challenge the network of vested interests within the Indonesian bureaucracy.

Never mind that Iwik later retracted his confession and gave evidence that police threatened to rip out his toenails or beat him to death if he continued to profess his innocence.

The link between Iwik and Mr Fuad was always tenuous. Police said his motive was jealousy, claiming Mr Fuad was having an affair with his wife, whom he had known at high school. But the only witness to the killing, Mr Fuad's wife, said Iwik did not resemble either of two men who burst into their home.

She described a man who resembled a local police officer, a relative of the Regent exposed by her husband's newspaper investigation.

As the case unravelled there was a new twist. Indonesia's Human Rights Commission came to sit and listen.

It was the first time members of the commission had monitored a court case, and their presence served as a powerful moral support for journalists willing to challenge the police. It also provided a rare window into a justice system which many Indonesians believe serves only the powerful.

Thirty-four witnesses testified to Iwik's innocence. Only two people, both police officers, testified to his guilt. Last week, the public prosecutor was forced to drop the case.

The Jakarta Post wrote: "If the prosecutors had been this courageous from the start, this parody of justice would not have progressed so far. The question now is how many other people have been unlawfully jailed?"