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Court ruling opens door to hero status for Soeharto

Jakarta Post - February 10, 2012

Jakarta – The Constitutional Court (MK) has rejected a request by civil activists for a review of the 2009 National Heroes Law, saying that articles in the law do not contravene the Constitution.

Civil activists, mostly those from the 1998 pro-democracy movement, said they feared the law would allow former president Soeharto to be bestowed posthumously with the coveted status of national hero.

"The request for a review is unreasonable. We, therefore, reject it," Constitutional Court chief Mahfud MD said after presiding the court's hearing on Thursday.

The activists requested the judicial review because the government had accepted the nomination of Soeharto as a candidate to receive the national hero status despite the former president's notoriety for corruption, and his poor human rights record.

Among the activists who submitted the request were Ray Rangkuti, Edwin Partogi and M. Chozin Amirullah.

Haris Azhar, a lawyer for the activists, said he regretted the court's decision, saying that it opened the door for Soeharto and his cronies to be named national heroes. "We worry that the stipulations in the law will be used by Soeharto loyalists to give the former president the national hero title," he said.

The activists had demanded that the Constitutional Court review four articles in the law, namely Article 1 point 4 on the definition of national heroes, Article 16 point 1 on national hero selection council, Article 25 on general requirements, and Article 26 on special requirements.

Gatot Goei, another lawyer for the activists, said two military personnel served as members of a council that would select figures eligible to be named national heroes.

Given the fact that Soeharto was the highest-ranking military commander during his tenure, Goei said, there was a chance that military personnel would be in favor of the former strongman being named a national hero.

If Soeharto is named a national hero, Haris said, pro-democracy activists would have to go to greater lengths to provide younger generations with an understanding that some heroes were corrupt and involved in killings.

The existence of the National Hero Law, he added, which had been strengthened by the Constitutional Court's ruling, might tarnish Indonesia's history.

"I think it is an indication that our law system still allows too much room for abetters of crime," Hariz, who is also the coordinator for the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), said.

Goei, however, said that the Constitutional Court's ruling had modified the hero-selection process outlined in the law. According to the court, the Article 1 on the definition of national hero cannot stand alone in determining categories of hero.

"The ruling should make the council stricter in bestowing a title," he said.

Indonesia has 156 heroes, said Asvi Warman Adam of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI). (rpt)