Trial of Indonesian Humanitarian Worker Awaiting Verdict

Jun 13, 2003 11:11 AM EDT

PALU, INDONESIA -- A verdict of the trial of Rev. Rinaldy Damanik, an Indonesian humanitarian worker arrested on a false weapons possession charge is expected on June 16. The prosecution has demanded a five year sentence, according to a report from Jubilee Campaign USA.

According to the ASSIST News, David Mundy, Special Counsel from Jubilee Campaign USA said, "Five years of prisonment is too much for the case of Yasir Ibnu." Yasir Ibnu was a member of the infamous radical Muslim group Laskar Jihad, caught red-handed with tons of ammunition, guns, and explosives; yet he was given only 3 years.

"When asked about this blatant disparity, the prosecutor, I Putu Gde Jeladha responded that 'Ibnu ... admitted and regretted what [he] had done, and Damanik did not.' To which Damanik later replied, 'How could I admit it? I did not commit this crime. And why should I regret what I did, which was to evacuate the displaced victims of a brutal attack?'", Mundy reported.

Mundy added, "Damanik's case now hinges on the decision of the judges. But according to Indonesian judicial culture, in such a case, the judges will normally award between 2.5 to 5 years. Typically they never go below half of what the prosecution requests. In a culture infused with saving face, it is nearly impossible that Damanik could be completely acquitted."

"Yet the judges in this case have admitted in open court that, after considering the testimony and the evidence presented, the prosecution failed to present a cohesive case. Their main dilemma is whether to accept physical evidence which was obtained though procedural irregularities," Mundy said.

Dr. J.E. Sahetapy, an expert on Indonesian law, urged the judges to throw out the illegally obtained evidence. Sahetapy, an retired professor of law at Airlangga University and also a member of the Indonesian Parliament, insisted that Damanik is being framed by the police, an all too common occurrence in Indonesia; and the court.

"Damanik's case is fraught with gross violations of legal and police procedures," said Mundy.

The police explained that Damanik was caught with illegal hand-made weapons on August 17, 2002 in Peleru. Although the police indictment was supposedly signed by two officers, one of these officers testified in court that it was not his signature. Moreover the police testified the search was conducted without a warrant and contrary to criminal procedure and even Damanik was not immediately informed for the result of this search.

In addition, said Mundy, the testimony of the prosecution's prime witnesses was utterly contradictory.

"For example, the police officers called by the prosecution gave completely illogical testimony regarding which vehicle Damanik was in and whether he was a passenger or a driver. Likewise, they did not even agree on the number of weapons removed from the vehicles. Amazingly, however, they each remembered that the license plate of Damanik's vehicle was DN-790E. However, Mr. Taswin, a garage owner called by the prosecution, testified that the vehicle in question was in his shop the whole time and was later confiscated by the police who threatened him not to give the correct dates."

Mundy said that during the bloody religious conflict that devastated Central Sulawesi beginning in December 1998, Damanik and his Crisis Center team earned a reputation for rescuing and aiding refugees, both Muslims and Christians alike. Damanik, a signatory to the 2001 Malino Peace Accord which was supposed to end the fighting, remained a vocal critic of the government and security force's complicity in the conflict.

"In fact, there is a growing consensus among the Christian and Muslim communities that the sectarian conflict was not originally of their making, but was instigated and perpetuated by an outside group -- including government officials, security forces and business conglomerates -- who used the ensuing instability to steal the region's vast natural resources. Accordingly, those responsible for the conflict are now trying to distract the public by scapegoating Damanik and, by imputation, the Christian community as the provocateurs," said Mundy.

"Because Indonesia is one of the major Muslim countries, exploiting religious division has generally been successful. However, the people of Central Sulawesi are no longer buying it -- a fact illustrated by Damanik's defense team, the majority of which is Muslim."

"The community has begun to question the role of the security forces. Yet, every scheduled troop withdrawal is preceded by violent incidents, thereby necessitating their continued presence."

Last week, two villages in Poso were attacked by masked gunmen with automatic weapons. The sudden attack resulted multiple injuries and deaths. Local leaders said, "the military receives only a small portion of its budget from the government so it relies on various business ventures for the remainder. The military is trying to set up a 'franchise' in Central Sulawesi."

Mundy also pointed that local leaders including Damanik have raised serious concerns about mismanagement of aid money for refugees of the conflict. Aid money, about 2.5 billion Rupiah, from Japan never reached to the right people. Also only half of the aid money collected in 2001 and 2002 -- about 110 billion Rupiah was used for the intended purpose.

"They profited off the instability by raping the region of its natural resources; and they are profiting off the current detente by embezzling money meant for refugees. They are using the police, the military, and radical Islamic militias as their personal thugs. And they are now trying to wash their hands of the thousands of lives lost by blaming Christians in general, and Rinaldy Damanik, in particular, as the provocateurs.

"However, the judges in Damanik's case may yet set things alright. The hallmark of a mature legal system is its respect for and protection of an individual's rights. Hence, legal procedures are developed to safeguard those rights from violation by overzealous or corrupt law enforcement. The courts, by throwing out evidence obtained in violation of such procedures, hold law enforcement officers accountable and, thereby, increase the public's trust in the system."

A conviction in the case of Rinaldy Damanik, given the severe violations of police and criminal legal procedures, would be devastating to the Indonesian justice system, Mundy explained. "His case is so important to the local, national, and international community. The Rule of Law in Indonesia hinges on the outcome."

By Young Sun Lee
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