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11 protesters freed, 44 fined

Jakarta Post - February 11, 1999

Jakarta – Under the watchful eyes of some 300 supporters of the defendants, the Central Jakarta District Court on Wednesday conducted a speedy trial for all 55 student protesters arrested for holding an illegal rally on Tuesday.

Conducted in two hearing rooms over three sessions, the five-hour trial ended peacefully, the only incident occurring when one of the defendants' supporters was ordered by the judge to leave the courtroom for disrupting the trial.

After hearing the testimonies of police officers and the lawyers' pleas, the judges found 11 of the defendants not guilty and sentenced each of the remaining 44 defendants to pay fines of Rp 2,250 for holding a street demonstration without giving prior notification to the police. Half of the students found guilty by the court refuse to pay the fine, and will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

The 55 defendants who were arrested during an antigovernment rally in front of the GKBI building on Jl. Sudirman in South Jakarta on Tuesday, arrived at the court in two police trucks at 11am.

At the court, they were greeted by supporters. mostly members of the Student Action Front for Reform and Democracy, under the wary eyes of scores of security officers.

Judge Rusdi Asad presided over the trial for 28 of the defendants, while Judge Purwanto presided over the trial for the remaining 27 defendants.

The police presented three banners and two megaphones--said to have been seized from the students during the demonstration--as evidence in the trials.

All of the defendants were charged with violating Law 9/1998 on freedom of expression, whose maximum punishment is a Rp 2,250 fine – about four US cents at the current rate of exchange – or two weeks in jail under Article 510 of the Criminal Code.

In the trial presided over by Judge Rusdi, four defendants, including a senior technical high school student, denied the charges, saying that they were passing through the area when their busses became trapped in the traffic jam in front of the GKBI building.

Rusdi found these four defendants not guilty. The remaining 24 students were found guilty of staging a street rally without giving prior notice to the police. "You may pay the fine or substitute it with three days in jail. Or you can appeal the decision," he told the defendants.

During the trial, Rusdi ordered a supporter of the defendants, later identified as a student from Jakarta University, to leave the courtroom for creating a disruption.

The student had asked Rusdi to stop interrupting the trial with long explanations. Rusdi also could not hide his anger with the noisy supporters of the defendants. His appeals for quiet were of no avail.

In the other courtroom, Judge Purwanto found seven defendants, including five female students, not guilty. The other 20 defendants, including three female students, were found guilty of holding a street rally without giving prior notice to the police.

Daniel Panjaitan, a lawyer at the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute who represented the students regretted Judge Purwanto's decision to leave the courtroom without asking the defendants if they accepted or refused his decision.

"We have decided to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court," Daniel said. He said the judge based his decision only on police dossiers without considering the defendants' testimonies. Standing on a seat, Daniel attempted to calm the crowd of supporters who began to yell when the judge left the courtroom.

During the session, some of the defendants told Purwanto that they were beaten by police officers when they were placed under arrest.

Purwanto replied that the alleged police abuse had no pertinence to the present trial suggesting the defendants report the matter to the police. The 55 defendants are students from various universities in Jakarta, including Atma Jaya University, Moestopo University and Tarumanegara University.

They were among 100 demonstrators who attempted to march to the House of Representatives to express their demands, including a thorough investigation of the Black Friday shooting at Semanggi cloverleaf last November and a transparent report of foreign loans to Indonesia.