Thu, 11 Mar 1999

Students on trial urged to respect court, obey law

JAKARTA (JP): Legal practitioners have asked students on trial to respect the court and obey existing laws.

Contacted by The Jakarta Post separately on Wednesday, lawyers Todung Mulya Lubis, Frans Hendra Winarta and Judge Paiman Martoredjo at the Central Jakarta District Court urged the student defendants to express their dissatisfaction in an acceptable, professional and respectful way.

The three were asked to comment on the recent trials of students, particularly for breaking the new law on freedom of speech, in which the students refused to attend their hearings and disobeyed the judges' verdicts.

Most of the students argued that Law No. 9/1998, prohibiting the holding of street rallies without prior notification to the police, was made by an illegitimate government.

According to Lubis, it is the political right of students to oppose the government, but he said challenging existing laws is not the correct way to express such dissatisfaction.

"If they need some changes, they could, for example, do some lobbying. If not, there are risks for (what they are doing)," he said.

He said that the students, whether they agree with the laws or not, should be aware that, once endorsed by the House of Representatives, the laws become part of the country's legal system and are binding.

Winarta was also not sympathetic with the students. "The student actions during the trials did not reflect their status as the possible future leaders of this country."

He said the judges represented the state and the community, therefore they must be respected by the defendants.

"If the students disagreed with the judge decisions, they should have pleaded not guilty instead of annoying the court," Winarta said. If they disagreed with the law, they should then take their complaint to the House of Representatives for review, he added.

"Also, in case they're not happy with the way the police arrested them, they could lodge complaints with the Jakarta Police Headquarters," he added.

Winarta said that such a negative attitude toward the courts would be a bad precedent for the future respect of the legal system.

Judge Paiman was critical of the lack of respect the students displayed to the court by walking out.

"Walking out has not been known in trials. The defendants were in contempt of court," Paiman, who is also the court's spokesman, said.

He said he also was disappointed in the students' lawyers, who supported their students' actions, saying the lawyers "had no idea" how to act in court.

"The lawyers only seek popularity," he said.

According to Paiman, the students should pay the fines immediately after the judges decide the verdict.

He said the students could appeal to the Supreme Court if they rejected the judge's decision.

"They are not allowed to leave the courtroom without saying whether they accept the decision or will appeal to the Supreme Court," he said.

Paiman said that in the future the court would coordinate with security personnel to prevent students leaving the courtrooms.

A group of 47 students from the Perbanas economic and banking college were the first group to walk out in protest from their trial at the Central Jakarta District Court on Feb. 26.

The students were arrested in front of Bank Indonesia for allegedly holding an unregistered rally. They said they had an invitation from a central bank official to attend a meeting at the bank to discuss the current bank recapitalization plans.

On March 1, 43 students grouped in the Indonesian Youth Struggle Front appeared at the same court with their mouths sealed with Band-Aids.

On Tuesday, 99 members of the Student Action Front for Reform and Democracy walked out of the courtrooms at the same court, where they were charged with holding an illegal street rally.

On the same day, another 96 students from a different group -- facing the same charge -- did not appear at court for their trial. They arrived in the evening after the court was closed.

All of the students were charged under Law No. 9/1998, the penalty of which is stipulated in Article 510 of the Criminal Code inherited from the Dutch colonial powers.

The article carries a maximum punishment of two weeks in prison or a fine of up to Rp 2,250.

The court sentenced all the students to pay fines of Rp 2,000 each, which could be substituted for three days in jail.

Lawyer Lubis suggested that those charged with upholding the legal system, namely judges and police, should act "more wisely" when enforcing the laws during this time of reform.

"Don't be too rigid. The judges should not only become the mouth for the laws but also the mouth for justice," he said.

Meanwhile, Bambang Widjojanto, chairman of the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute (YLBHI), said the students' actions were in protest over the police handling of student rallies.

"It's not really the court they protested. The students protested that the law has halted their freedom of speech," Bambang said. (jun/01/bsr)