Sat, 16 Sep 2000

Bring Soeharto by force to court, say observers

JAKARTA (JP): Legal and media observers said on Friday that force could be used by prosecutors to bring former president Soeharto to court should he fail to show up at the next hearing of his US$571 million graft trial on Sept. 28.

Coordinator of Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW) Teten Masduki, executive director of the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI) Hendardi and media observer Wimar Witoelar noted that the law was a tool which could be used to force "difficult defendants" to appear before the court.

"The law is a forceful, repressive tool. It aims at straightening things out and for that, force is needed for difficult defendants," Teten said at a meeting between members of the media and political observers at Hotel Atlet Century Park in Senayan, Central Jakarta.

"Everybody has to bow before the law. If Soeharto neglects the rule of the law, force will be needed to get him to court."

On Thursday, lawyers for the former president said poor mental health was preventing the former ruler from attending the hearing.

He is being charged with misappropriating US$571 million of state funds by siphoning off the money from seven tax-free charitable foundations he chaired.

"It's just typical, isn't it? He does not want his face splashed on local and international newspapers and TV screens, so he'll use this excuse of poor health. Should that scenario fail, his corruption case will be turned into a civil case, and he'll go free," Teten said.

The defendant's poor health claims were backed up by his private team of doctors on Thursday, who projected images of his brain onto a large screen set up in the courtroom at the Ministry of Agriculture.

They said the brain scans showed that Soeharto was suffering from acute Aphasia, making it difficult for him to communicate.

A duty

Wimar said that he would not use the word force in the context of getting a defendant to court.

"It's called duty. Today, the panel of judges is using a medical team as the excuse to postpone their duties. They can choose to risk another bout of riots here and sacrifice the peace of the people, or firmly demand the defendant appear before court, one way or another," Wimar said.

"The Indonesian Doctors Association (IDI) has stated that a medical team has no right to decide on the presence or absence of a defendant in court. A medical team's job is merely to inform the court how sick or how well a defendant is."

"It's the job of judges to decide whether a defendant should appear in court or not. It depends on a judge's courage."

Teten said the Thursday hearing showed that the judges and the prosecutors lacked courage.

"The judges and the prosecutors should have asked why those medical reports, which were months old, were being read out in court."

He added that prosecutor Muchtar Arifin showed a brief moment of courage when he asked defense lawyers whether they had given the summons to appear in court to the defendant.

"Muchtar stopped short of divulging a common secret ... the personal secretary of the defendant has revealed that the defendant has no knowledge at all that this trial is going on," Teten said, without revealing the name of the secretary.

Hendardi said that prosecutors were pampering Soeharto and giving him the luxury of time.

"Yes, force can be used. Yet, I feel force should be a final option as the judges have yet to order prosecutors to take over the medical care of the defendant," Hendardi said.

"If the judges do so, the defendant will be handled by the prosecutors, who will eventually find out for themselves the truth about Soeharto's health. If the defendant turns out to be fit enough, they can lawfully get him to appear in court." (ylt)