Wed, 31 Dec 2003

Soldiers acquitted in 1996 PDI headquarters attack

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Central Jakarta district court acquitted two soldiers and two civilians of all charges in the July 27, 1996 Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) killings, but sentenced another civilian defendant to two months and 10 days.

They were the first verdicts handed down in the seven-year-old case, in which official government figures put the death toll at five, with 23 people still listed as "missing" when the Jakarta party headquarters of Megawati Soekarnoputri, the then populist opposition leader, was attacked by a mob, allegedly recruited by and taking orders from the military and/or the central government.

The attack followed the dismissal announcement of Megawati as the PDI chairperson by supporters of the party's splinter faction led by veteran politician Soerjadi.

Presiding judge Rukmini said that there was not enough evidence to convict the defendants -- Capt. Budi Purnama, First Lt. Suharto, Mohammad Tanjung and Rahimi Ilyas -- for their roles in the attack.

"The four defendants were not involved in the rampage at the PDI headquarters, nor in recruiting the people for that purpose," she proclaimed.

However, the court sentenced another defendant, Jonathan Marpaung to two months and 10 days for his role in the incident.

He was found guilty of inciting the crowd to attack, Rukmini said.

The prosecution was seeking six months imprisonment for each of the five defendants, and might appeal the verdicts.

The five were among the 11 suspects charged in the attack that sparked dozens of riots across Jakarta, in which dozens of buildings were vandalized or set on fire.

Other suspects include Soerjadi and his fellow leaders of the splinter faction, such as the late Budi Hardjono and Buttu Hutapea.

Several other high-profile figures such as current Jakarta Governor Lt. Gen. (ret) Sutiyoso, former Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI) chief Gen. (ret) Feisal Tanjung and former ABRI chief of socio-political affairs Lt. Gen. (ret.) Syarwan Hamid were allegedly involved in the tragedy as well.

They have been questioned in connection with the case but none were charged for any violation.

Victims, students and human rights activists as well as Megawati's party members have held several protests over the years to demand that the leaders behind the siege be brought to justice.

However, Megawati, who has since become president and head of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), seems to lack interest in the case and has shown less than meager support for a more thorough investigation.

Those urging her to push for justice were particularly irked by her endorsement of the reelection of Sutiyoso as the Jakarta governor last year for a second five-year term. In addition, she has been notably absent from the annual commemoration of the tragedy since she became vice president in 1999.