Fri, 19 Aug 1994

The government gives hope to convicts serving life-terms

JAKARTA (JP): The government's move to give prisoners serving life sentences the chance to redeem themselves and regain their freedom is being hailed by a member of the National Commission on Human Rights.

"This new policy shows that the government is starting to feel at ease with the new political atmosphere in which more democracy and openness is picking up," the Commission's Vice Chairman, Marzuki Darusman, told The Jakarta Post yesterday.

Minister of Justice Oetojo Oesman disclosed on Wednesday that convicts serving life terms can now work their way to freedom through earning annual remissions.

The first step is to apply for presidential clemency to get their sentences commuted to 20 years, Oetojo said during a visit to the Cipinang Correctional Institution in Jakarta.

At present, remissions are to available only to inmates serving fixed terms. They are granted for good behavior and regular blood donations. The amount of time deducted from their sentences each year ranges from one to six months.

"Those whose clemency petitions have been turned down by the President can still have another try," Oetojo said as quoted by the Kompas daily.

The new ruling appears to be the government's response to past appeals from human rights campaigners to free some of the political prisoners who have served more than 30 years.

Among them are Omar Dhani and Soebandrio, both cabinet ministers who served under Indonesia's first president Sukarno. They were jailed for their roles in the abortive 1965 communist coup perpetrated by the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).

Marzuki said a similar policy existed in the 1960s but it was abolished in the 1970s.

"Now the government has reinstated the policy. This shows that they are slowly overcoming an excessive fear of the past and that traumatic phase in history ... The new regulation is a good psychological breakthrough," he said.

New policy

Luhut Pangaribuan, director of Jakarta's office of the Legal Aid Foundation, did not share the same enthusiasm as Marzuki about the new policy.

"I have no objection, but you have to remember there are certain principles one must abide with," he said.

"Asking for clemency is identical to a confession of guilt and an appeal for mercy. Whereas, in the case of those serving life- time sentences, the question of whether or not the person is guilty still exists," he said, adding that not all of the people who are serving life terms are willing to plead guilty.

He cited as an example his client Sirajuddin, more popularly known as Pak De. Pangaribuan said his client will never confess to having murdered top model Dietje.

The murder of Dietje several years ago caused a commotion because most of the evidence pointed towards the possibility of "highly-placed people" being involved. Observers suspected that Pak De was only a scapegoat in the case.

"I know Pak De very well, and if he did ask for clemency, I am sure it would be because he did not understand the matter well," Luhut said, commenting on suggestions that Pak De's was ready to compromise and plead for clemency.

"Mixing clemency and remission under these circumstances can bring certain implications ... If a prisoner asked for remission, it would only be granted if he had good conduct, while he was in jail," he pointed out.

Luhut said he doubted whether the new ruling was made on a well-accounted, clear basis. "Judging from the contradiction between legal procedures and the goodwill, I would say the move was made too hastily." (pwn)