Thu, 17 Jul 2003

GAM members deprived of right to lawyers

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Lawyers have raised concern over the government's failure to provide defense lawyers for members of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) who are facing trial, saying the government is bound by law to make sure that all defendants are assisted by defense lawyers regardless of their crime.

"We are concerned with the government's failure to provide defense lawyers for the separatists since most of them have been convicted or are facing conviction for crimes that carry a prison term of more than five years," chairman of the Association of Indonesian Lawyers (IPHI) Indra Sahnun Lubis said after a meeting with Vice President Hamzah Haz and Minister of Justice and Human Rights Yusril Ihza here on Wednesday.

Yusril admitted that his office had not allocated funds to pay for defense lawyers to assist arrested GAM members.

"The fund should come from the joint operation budget, as it is impossible for my office to provide the money," Yusril told reporters after the meeting.

However, he did not explain whether the Aceh joint operation budget also covered the government's obligation to provide defense lawyers for detained separatists.

Indra said the Criminal Code stipulated that all defendants charged with a minimum imprisonment of five years should be assisted by a defense lawyer.

In most cases, the government does not provide defense lawyers for separatists on trial, forcing most of them to represent themselves in court.

Currently there are 185 suspected rebels who are being questioned by the police or military without the presence of lawyers and 71 of them will go to trial in the near future.

Another 299 suspected rebels who are under military detention are also likely to be kept away from lawyers, although most of them are facing charges of treason that carries more than a five- year sentence.

Indra noted that the number of suspected rebels scheduled to undergo trial would increase in the next few months and urged the government to pay attention to the problem.

Yusril admitted that it was difficult to establish a proper court in the province due to security conditions.

"It is very difficult for us to set up a court in such conditions, but we will send 19 more judges to the province to conduct trials in Banda Aceh and Sabang," the minister said.

Regarding the possibility of amnesty for the suspected rebels, Yusril said that the government would not grant any amnesty in the near future.

"We may offer amnesty only when GAM no longer exists in the province," the minister said.

He said that the government under former president Sukarno offered full amnesty to members of the People's Struggle (Permesta) rebellion in West Sumatra in the 1950s.

"If we offer amnesty to GAM members now, there is a possibility that after they are free they will join the separatist movement again," Yusril remarked.

He stressed that amnesty would be offered once the government was sure that the organization no longer existed in the country.

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