Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Indonesia Stops Suharto 'Show Trial' ; the Former President Was Granted a Blanket Clemency Yesterday for Health Reasons

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Indonesia Stops Suharto 'Show Trial' ; the Former President Was Granted a Blanket Clemency Yesterday for Health Reasons

Article excerpt

A blanket clemency offered yesterday to former Indonesian ruler Suharto on medical grounds comes at a time when Indonesia itself still seems adrift.

President Abdurrahman Wahid is out of the country. Indonesian generals have been slow to block the rise of militia and paramilitary forces operating in West Timor and the Maluku islands. Students and opposition leaders who brought down Suharto in 1998 are angry but offer little strategic vision - except rioting over the empty defendant's chair in a Jakarta lower court.

Suharto's trial was supposed to be a shining moment for ideals of "civil society" in Indonesia, a symbol that the country could deal with corruption, conduct civil reforms, repent for past mistakes, deliver justice for the millions who went under Suharto's boot - and enter into the international political mainstream.

While Mr. Wahid has said he would pardon Suharto, such clemency would only be granted after a show trial that showed no one was above the law.

Now, the test for Indonesia, say many analysts, is whether Attorney General Marzuki Darusman can continue prosecutions on the allegedly vast and illegal amounts of wealth accumulated by Suharto's children and business cronies.

From the time Suharto was placed under house arrest, and again in early August when Mr. Marzuki announced the prosecution of Suharto - Indonesians had been accommodating themselves to the idea that the former strongman would not be tried for any alleged crimes while he was head of state. Rather, the charges against him for "mishandling" about half a billion dollars in a set of seven charitable foundations were low-level corruption charges within the ambit of Indonesian law.

Both the lower court judges and the attorney general could technically pass the buck to the Supreme Court - both on the question of Suharto's health, and whether he can be tried in absentia, but the chief judge on the 5-member panel refused to refer the case. Chief prosecutor Muchtar Arifin immediately announced plans to appeal.

Some of the country's most eminent physicians were appointed to assess defense claims that Suharto was too ill to face trial. The 24-member team included representatives of some of Indonesia's most prestigious medical schools, with little motive to perjure themselves. …

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