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Thursday, 25 July, 2002, 09:17 GMT 10:17 UK
Indonesia's vital trials near end
Tommy Suharto (l) and Akbar Tandjung
Verdicts pending: Tommy Suharto and Akbar Tandjung
Several high-profile court cases seen as crucial tests of reform in Indonesia are entering their final stages.

A verdict is due on Friday in Tommy Suharto's murder trial which could see the son of the former dictator jailed.

On trial
Former dictator's son Tommy Suharto charged with hiring judges' killers
Former parliamentary speaker Akbar Tandjung charged with misusing state funds
18 military and civilian officials charged with human rights abuses in East Timor
Separately, prosecutors have demanded a prison sentence of ten-and-a-half years for Timbul Silaen, police chief in East Timor during its bloody independence battle.

And on Wednesday, prosecutors in another case demanded that the speaker of Indonesia's Parliament, Akbar Tandjung, be sentenced to four years in prison for allegedly misusing millions of dollars in state funds.

Correspondents say that verdicts in these and other ongoing trials will indicate how far Indonesia has come in tackling a perceived culture of impunity for the wealthy and powerful.

Reforms demanded

Indonesia is being pressed by other countries to make far-reaching political and legal changes.

Verdicts and sentences which are seen as just could also go some way to countering comments by a United Nations observer this week that the Indonesian justice system was one of the worst in the world.

Student protester
Protesters demanded an inquiry into the allegations against Akbar Tandjung
Tommy Suharto - once seen as untouchable as a relative of the man who ruled Indonesia for 32 years - is expected to hear on Friday whether a five-judge panel considers him guilty of hiring hit men to assassinate a Supreme Court judge.

Justice Syafiuddin Kartasasmita was shot dead in his car by two armed motorbike riders. The judge had reinforced a jail sentence issued by a lower court on Tommy Suharto, whose real name is Hutomo Mandala Putra.

The two killers received life sentences earlier this year after they claimed Tommy had paid them thousands of dollars for the murder.

Tommy, once one of Indonesia's richest men, denies involvement in the slayings.

Justice 'hard to find'

Correspondents say that although it is three years since Suharto's fall, many people find it hard to believe that his son will receive justice.

Munir, a lawyer and human rights activist, said: "Tommy's verdict will be a test for the Indonesian judicial system.

"The verdict can be fresh water in the desert of injustice in Indonesia."

In another test of the system, 18 Indonesian military and government officials are on trial, charged with crimes against humanity in East Timor.

They are said to be implicated in the wave of violence after the August 1999 independence vote in which almost 1,000 people were killed.

But the sentence request for Brigadier Silaen marks the third time that prosecutors have called for a sentence only six months longer than the minimum allowed for crimes against humanity.

Trial judges in Indonesia do not have to accept the recommendations of the prosecution should they decide the defendants are guilty.

But critics suggest that despite the international pressure to punish those responsible for the bloodshed, even the prosecutors believe they will be treated lightly, hence their requests for relatively short sentences.

'Misuse of funds'

In the corruption case of Mr Tandjung, the maximum sentence available was 20 years, but prosecutors recommended to judges that he be jailed for just four.

Mr Tandjung has been accused of misusing $4m intended for Indonesia's poor through the state's food agency.

A verdict in his case is expected next month.

Indonesia's Justice Minister Yusril Ihza Mahendra said earlier that the legal system was being improved.

He rejected allegations by United Nations special rapporteur Param Cumaraswamy that President Megawati Sukarnoputri's government lacked the political will to root out graft and implement legal reforms critical to luring investors back to Indonesia.

The BBC's Richard Galpin
"Amongst suggestions put forward is an entirely new set of senior judges"
See also:

13 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
26 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
23 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
19 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
08 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
24 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
19 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
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