Wed, 06 Aug 2003

Unexpected three year jail sentence for Damiri

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Despite a prosecution request for the acquittal of Maj. Gen. Adam Damiri, the ad hoc human rights tribunal decided on Tuesday to slap a three-year jail term on the military bigwig for his involvement in the 1999 mayhem in East Timor.

"The court finds the defendant guilty of having committed gross human rights violations in East Timor," Presiding Judge Marni Emmy Mustafa told a packed courtroom on Tuesday.

Damiri's lawyers and supporters, who had packed the courtroom, were stunned as the judges had been widely expected to acquit him after prosecutors had recommended that all charges be dropped due to "lack of evidence".

One of them branded the government as "the devil", while Damiri's lawyers openly castigated the judges. The situation was brought under control, however, after Damiri, who had initially lost his composure and started shouting, finally calmed down and asked his supporters to do the same.

"I respect the court's ruling but I feel very disappointed with this decision. It will not only affect my family and my soldiers, but also the Indonesian Military (TNI) as an institution," said Damiri, who was the most senior soldier to have been tried for human rights violations in East Timor.

He asserted that he would appeal the verdict, which came on the same day as a powerful car bomb went off at Jakarta's J.W. Marriott Hotel, killing at least 15 people and injuring 100.

As with most senior Indonesian state officials who have been convicted of serious criminal offenses, Damiri will remain at liberty pending his appeal.

According to the verdict, Damiri, who was in charge of the Udayana Military Command overseeing East Timor, was guilty of a dereliction of duty in failing to prevent his subordinates from attacking, and permitting pro-integration militias to attack, pro-independence East Timorese who took refuge in houses and churches in Liquica, Dili and Tovalima between April and September 1999.

Responding to the request by the prosecution that Damiri be acquitted, the panel of five judges ruled that the request was "discriminatory and unfair to the other defendants in the East Timor cases."

The panel of judges, made up of Emmy, Rocky Panjaitan, Komariah Emong Sapardjaja, Rudy M. Rizky and Sulaiman Hamid, also said that the recommendation was based on "inaccurate and inconsistent" grounds.

The judges noted that the mayhem before and after the ballot in East Timor in 1999 had cost innocent lives, caused massive damage to property and severely damaged Indonesia's image and standing on the international stage.

According to rights activists, some 1,000 people in East Timor died prior to and after the 1999 referendum, which resulted in a massive vote in favor of independence from Indonesia, which had annexed the territory in 1976.

In their verdict, the judges stated that "we cannot blame those who believe the accusations that the state initiated the mayhem as we can see that there was a repeated pattern of attacks that claimed the lives of East Timorese victims."

They also said the facts revealed the involvement of the National Police and TNI in the violence in East Timor as they were the elements of the government that were responsible for security in the former province. Thus, they could not wash their hands of the violence that occurred.

Upon hearing the verdict, Damiri, who is currently the operations assistant to the TNI chief of general affairs, became hysterical, and started shouting and waving his arms in protest against the verdict.

The Damiri conviction brings to a conclusion a series of trials involving 18 civilian and military leaders in the former East Timor province over their roles in the 1999 mayhem.

Six of the defendants have been found guilty, but the light sentences handed down have contributed to a widespread perception that the entire process was little more than a whitewash designed to preempt the setting up of an international human rights tribunal along the lines of that hearing rights cases from the former Yugoslavia.

The toughest sentence of 10 years in prison was handed down to a Timorese civilian who led a pro-integration militia, despite the fact that many are convinced he was incapable of acting without state support.