Achmad Ibrahim and Edna Tariganjune, Jakarta, Indonesia – A middle-rank Indonesian army officer is being stripped of his military title after he was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison for murder, joint deprivation of the independence of others and removing the bodies with the intention of concealment in a case that drew public outcry.
Priyanto held the title colonel before his sentencing and dismissal from military service.
Two of Priyanto's subordinates were with him when their car crashed into two teenagers on a motorcycle in December. Handi Saputra, 17, was riding the motorcycle with his girlfriend Salsabila, 14, in West Java province.
During the trial in Indonesia's capital Jakarta, Priyanto admitted he had the idea of disposing of the two bodies because he thought the teens had died and weren't moving or breathing.
However, a number of other witnesses – including a civilian who helped lift the two victims into Priyanto's car at the crime scene – said Handi was still moving and groaning in pain.
Instead of taking him to the hospital, Priyanto ordered his men to put the two victims in the car. Despite the subordinates' rejection of his plans, Priyanto decided to throw the bodies into the nearest large river so that the two bodies could drift into the sea in the hope they would be lost or eaten by animals and not found.
The two bodies were found by local residents three days later in separate rivers in neighboring Central Java province.
The forensic expert serving as a witness said water was found in Handi's respiratory system, showing he was still alive when he was thrown in the river.
One of the presiding judges said the case is meant to teach soldiers a lesson in respecting human rights even though they are trained to kill.
"This punishment is also to provide a deterrent effect for other soldiers," Brig. Gen. Faridah Faisal said Tuesday before reading out the verdict.
Both of his subordinates are also on trial regarding the case.
Relatives of the victims, in a broadcast by TV ONE, said they accepted the verdict on Priyanto and his punishment.
Many Indonesians welcomed the army's retreat from politics after Suharto's often brutal 32-year rule was ended by mass protests in 1998. The changes represented a major break with the past and set the stage for civilian-led reforms to enhance the elected government's control over military institutions and defense policy.
Despite a reputation for brutality, the image of Indonesia's armed forces has improved since Suharto's departure.