Tue, 07 Nov 2000

Lawyers accused of harassing House

JAKARTA (JP): A hearing over the high-profile scandal in the National Logistics Agency (Bulog) at the House of Representatives turned into a bitter argument on Monday.

The exchange of rude words centered on the refusal of the lawyers of Siti Farikha, a witness in the financial scandal, to allow their client to testify before the House's special committee tasked with investigating the case.

The lawyers Indra Sahnun Lubis and Hefer Hariandja insisted they had to be present with their client, defying the legislators.

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan)'s legislator Alex Litaay started the altercation by asking the lawyers to leave the meeting hall. The previous hearing on Wednesday was delayed after another witness, Teti Nursetiati, wife of the main suspect Suwondo, had also refused to testify without the presence of her lawyers.

Offended by the order to leave, Hefer struck back, saying: "You know you are here to represent the people and me. You must not do such a thing because you are paid by the people."

Both Hefer and Indra approached Alex with clenched hands.

"Our job is to accompany our client to provide her with legal protection," Indra almost screamed.

The two lawyers were outraged when Alex said the summons had nothing to do with their client's human rights or legal protection.

The committee chairman Bachtiar Chamsyah suspended the hearing following the chaos. He regretted the incident and said he would report it to the House leaders.

"We have yet to decide if it is a contempt of parliament but it's clearly a harassment of the House. We will ask the House leaders to follow up this matter," he said.

Alex declined to comment on the incident but called on the House leaders to take the law and the House's internal rulings into account when judging the incident.

Teti, who was also scheduled to testify, insisted she would not meet the House's demand without her lawyers.

"I do not dare to do so before the committee which has many members," she said.

Another legislator, Ade Komaruddin, warned Farikha and Teti that they could face a maximum of one year in jail for refusing to testify before the special committee, as stipulated in a 1954 law.

He said besides the law, the House's internal rulings also allowed the special committee to question the two witnesses without the presence of their lawyers.

Separately, House Speaker Akbar Tandjung said the House was allowed to use force in getting the witnesses to testify.

"We are considering every possibility to bring in the witnesses without their lawyers' presence," he said.

But he stressed that the committee could conclude its investigation without hearing the testimony of both Teti and Siti. (45/rms/jun)