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Wednesday, 4 October, 2000, 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK
Did Suharto get off lightly?

Former Indonesian strongman Suharto has escaped prosecution for corruption after a court accepted that he was too frail to stand trial.

The outcome mirrors the case of former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, who earlier this year escaped deportation from Britain to Spain because of his age and deteriorating health.

Both decisions angered those who expected to find answers in the dictators' trials - about human rights abuses in the case of Pinochet and about high-level graft in Suharto's.

Did Suharto get off lightly? Or would it have been inhumane to drag a frail 79 year-old through the courts?

Here are your comments:


He never left the country and when his health still permitted, he answered all summons by prosecutors

Dino, Indonesia
People tend to forget that during the last days prior to Suharto's resignation he had basically two options; resign and let his Vice-President take over or consolidate his remaining support from ABRI and fight a brutal battle to the end - possibly killing millions. He did the former. He never left the country and when his health still permitted, he answered all summons by prosecutors.
Dino, Indonesia

To punish the people of Indonesia, or any country, for the actions of members of the ruling class is vindictive at best, besides being absolutely pointless. The international banking institutions that funded his reign of terror should be criminally accountable for the violence that they fed, AND the debt should be cancelled.
Lynx, USA

If there was any justice in this world, Suharto would be shot. As a result of his strong-arm tactics, he jailed and even murdered those who spoke against him. Student activists were kidnapped and tortured. He stole the country's wealth and gave it to his friends and family. And some of you are saying he should not be punished!
Martin Jenkins, Indonesia


That is the price the elite, middle classes were prepared to pay for prosperity and stability

Eddy Lie, Australia
During his 32 years of rule, Mr Suharto foresaw the dangers of overpopulation and made family planning easily available to all. He reduced illiteracy and, most of all, maintained the nation's unity and let those Indonesians who could afford it enjoy life to the full. Yes, Suharto used the military to crush any sign of dissent. That is the price the elite, middle classes were prepared to pay for prosperity and stability.
Eddy Lie, Australia

Suharto, his family and close 'friends' should be forced to repay the Indonesian people. The IMF, UN and other organisations should withhold all loans/ aid from Indonesia for 20-50 years as punishment.
Mark, USA

Here we go again with the "too frail" rubbish. Just like Pinochet he committed countless atrocities and should be made to stand trial for them no matter how old or weak he is.
Kevin Hogan, England

He got off scott-free, which is no big surprise. He has stolen enough money to buy just about anyone in Indonesia. Forget about the country getting any of it back, it is long gone. To give him his due, he put the right people in place to see to it that Indonesia rose from the mess of the Sukarno regime to an acceptable level of prominence, but that doesn't excuse his corruption. At the same time, corruption is institutionalised in Indonesia. I've met few in service of the Government who were not corrupt, and I spent many years working for a foreign contractor in the petroleum industry in Sumatra and Kalimantan.
Jim, USA


Anyone who thinks there's an easy answer is either naive or ignorant

Arto, Indonesia
The trial of Suharto had begun since his fall from power - by the media and public opinion. He will not get a fair trial in the courts. It is a Pandora's Box. Anyone who thinks there's an easy answer is either naive or ignorant.
Arto, Indonesia

Former President Suharto could deny nothing about corruption charges against him. But as many of his aides will tell you, he did not break any law even when he issued special decrees to facilitate their business projects. The only reason the former Indonesian president is being charged in court is so that President Abdurrahman Wahid can tell you he is tough on corruption; that humiliating him will send the message that no one is above the law. But is that true? Look around him. Has his government really stopped corruption? Has he put in place the judicial reforms he keeps talking about for which he has yet to show you an agenda? Is life really better?
Eddy Lie Hua Song, Australia

It seems like Suharto will never be brought to trial, whether he is sick or not. The Indonesian authorities should now concentrate their efforts on finding ways to get his family to return the billions of dollars that they made during his rule.
Nick, Indonesia

I lived as a banker there during part of Suharto's reign and I observed corruption from top to bottom. The least punishment should be house arrest until he 'recovers' and then back to court. All his family, cronies, hangers-on etc, should be prosecuted now. The current administration should not forget that most of the funding was foreign aid and those countries should freeze further funds until Suharto is convicted in abstentia.
Harry, Japan

Yes of course he got off lightly, but ultra-rich dictators who have squeezed their countries dry always do! The best we can hope for is that a few of the hundreds of millions he allegedly embezzled actually get returned to Indonesia. Whether any of those few millions will actually reach the poor in the country is another matter, though.
Ian, UK

Face it: corruption is a fact of political life. Suharto IS too old to stand trial. Look at all the wonderful things that he did for Indonesia - developing agriculture and industry, fostering unprecedented prosperity for his country and modernising it.
He fell from power because of the Asian Economic Crisis of 1997, an event, which he was powerless to prevent. I think that Indonesians should forget and forgive.
Jeff, USA


It's not just Suharto getting off, it's all of his cronies as well

Ben, Netherlands
It's not just Suharto getting off, it's all of his cronies as well. A trial against Suharto would certainly expose many other crimes committed by those who are still in office. Guess what: it's the same people who claim Suharto is unfit to stand trial!
Ben, Netherlands

I was dismayed by David K's comment, on your website, regarding comparisons between Suharto and Pinochet. Like Pinochet, Suharto "saved his country from communism". Like Pinochet (although on a vastly grander scale), he did so by way of oppressing, torturing, and slaughtering large numbers of his own people. Like Pinochet, he did so with Western approval and help. Like Pinochet, he was dumped by his Western backers when post-Cold War realities made him an embarrassing inconvenience.
Robert Holland, England

The painful irony about these despots is that they are almost always able to take advantage of the same rights and privileges which they regarded with utter contempt while in power. Just imagine, for example, the extent to which the English courts were prepared to go in order to ensure that Pinochet was given a fair trial, and compare that with what the monster did to his numerous victims.
Ubong Effeh, UK [Nigerian]


Do not be so quick to blame Mr Suharto and his cronies for everything that goes wrong now

Eddy Lie Hua Song, Australia
Do not be so quick to blame Mr Suharto and his cronies for everything that goes wrong now, like the violence in Maluku and every time a bomb goes off. Yes, it is our nature to look for convenient scapegoats. Today it is Mr Suharto; tomorrow it may be you. Digging for past dirt will only disturb Indonesia's concentration in trying to move to a future which is filled with many problems.
Eddy Lie Hua Song, Australia

Why no comments from Indonesians? Why has Britain armed the brutal Indonesian generals, like Suharto? Over the years Suharto got off lightly from the western media, including the BBC.
Aang, Indonesia

Yes, Suharto got off lightly. So did the country that did not have to pay for all the lawyers. I think that media sees only one part of the medal (as usual, that is). Suharto deserves trial, but since he is 'unfit' to stand normal one, the trial should be as short as possible, without lengthy speeches and usual legal mambo-jumbo. Also, the people of the Indonesia should have their fair say as well. Hmmm, since we have Pinochet and Suharto, why not make one trial for both. Those who still remember Nuremberg would help with this one.
Sam, USA


At least a trial in his absence should proceed

Julian Hayward, UK
If he is genuinely too frail to go to court, then at least a trial in his absence should proceed. The most important thing is not that Suharto should be punished now - it's rather too late for that if he is about to die anyway - but that the evidence should be made public and actions taken to ensure as far as possible that anyone else with the same criminal intent is prevented from doing so, or caught while still young enough for prison to be meaningful.
Julian Hayward, UK

Yes I think he should go to jail, or at least he must return the money that he took from the country during his rule. It is so pathetic that he wants a fair trial and justice now.
Budi, Singapore

Indonesia was a gangster state and still is a gangster state. The gangsters are the Suhartos, the army and their 1.5 million militiamen, the people running the army businesses from protection rackets to drugs, the crooked businessmen and bankers, the street toughs....Thousands have been murdered recently in army inspired violence in Aceh, Sulawesi and Maluku. There should be no more World Bank or IMF money for Indonesia. There should be no more arms sales. Suharto got off lightly but we can only hope that the students and people rise up and burn down the army barracks. There are 200 million Indonesians and only about 400,000 soldiers (plus their militias).
Aang, UK

One gets the feeling that even the mild strokes are fabricated. While billions of allegedly siphoned $s accrue interest for the family enabling them to further pay off whoever, millions of Indonesians work, sleep, exist on the streets in poverty and uneducated. The sad fact about Indonesia is that corruption is so deep-rooted that it is actually an accepted way of daily life. It will take years, decades to sort this country out if at all, by which time So-hard-to get rid of will be paying his karmic dues. He will get off lightly in this world but .....
William, Indonesia

Lets not forget the role of the US in the reign of Suharto. It was the CIA who backed him to annex East Timor, just as they supported the right-wing coup led by Pinochet in Chile. If Mr Suharto is to face justice it won't be without the consent of the real powers-that-be, in Washington!
Mike, The Netherlands

Pinochet looked pretty spry when he got off of the plane. I would not be surprised if Suharto also had an amazing recovery. We let people like this cause untold harms to millions of their own people and then when it comes time to pay the price we let them off because they are "too old and infirm to face the penalty. It is my contention that no one is ever "too old and infirm" to pay the price for their crimes.
Dave, USA


Does it mean that any 'sick' person responsible for killings, rapes, robbing of innocent people, and crimes of heinous nature, will be acquitted?

Eric, Australia
Suharto needs to be sent to jail, together with all those involved in the scam, torture, murder/etc. for the past 30 years he has been in power. Extremely unreasonable to accept medical reasons as an excuse to pardon any criminal, regardless of their influence or status. If such ruling is upheld, does it mean that any 'sick' person responsible for killings, rapes, robbing of innocent people, and crimes of heinous nature, will be acquitted?
Eric, Australia

With the defence industry worth billions each year, and the public so powerful in setting moral agendas these days, you have to ask - "who really got off lightly."
S Cribb, USA

Of course Suharto got off easily. His reign of terror lasted for decades. He was responsible for the executions of hundreds of thousands, the repression of millions, and the embezzlement of billions.
Truly one of the top 5 worst political figures of our last century. Indonesia might need another 15-20 years to fully recover from Suharto, with his destructive policies and loyal army still intact.
JRL, USA, ex Holland

Certainly seems to be a trend. When did he become unfit to stand trial, when he sat in the wheelchair at the hospital? Seems the only way to a debt-free life and true happiness nowadays is to either be a Dictator, a CEO or a corrupt politician. Well I think I'll quit my menial job to enjoy more prosperous times free of legal prosecution, see you at the top.
David, First Canada, now Ireland


He brought stability to his nation

Eddy, Australia
Mr Suharto ruled Indonesia for 32 years. He brought Indonesia together. He brought GDP to around 7%-9%. He lowered unemployment rate to around 5-6%. He brought stability to his nation. Indonesia is too early to have a democratic society. When he fell due to protests by students, everything fell apart and people started to blame Suharto and his cronies for corruption, collusion, and nepotism. Suharto made lots of bad things but also good things. Can his nation repay Suharto for what he has done to his nation that is stability to the South East Asia during his 32 years in office?
Eddy, Australia

It is a shame Suharto has got off lightly. It has become fashionable for politicians of all hues to amass illegal wealth, feign illness while facing a probe for having been corrupt during their rule, have real health problems at the time of appearances in court and escape prosecution. Those accused of corruption, young or old, healthy or sick, ought to be tried in a court of law and punished according to the law of the land. If this is not done, it will give birth to more Suhartos and Pinochets.
Albert Devakaram, India

Maybe Suharto was too old, frail and ill to go to Jail, but there should at least be a full public enquiry into what he did and some method of redress sought if wrong is found to have been done. Justice doesn't have to have punishment as its be-all and end-all, it should focus on the discovery of truth.
Richard Bell, UK

Why link Pinochet with Suharto? The former saved his country from communism, the latter was simply a corrupt politician.
David K, England


I am getting close to retirement - Does this mean I can now engage in all sorts of crimes yet remain outside of the law

Mira Jackson, UK
I am getting close to retirement. Does this mean I can now engage in all sorts of crimes yet remain outside of the law, and more importantly, can I absolve myself of any pesonal responsibility? I think not.
Mira Jackson, UK

I think he should be made to give up his ill-gotten wealth. The man and his family would never get a fair trial, no matter what anybody says. Let him see how it is to suffer financial hardship like he exposed so many of his countrymen too.
Angela Severn-Morrell, England


People like Suharto and Pinochet do not have the right to a ripe old age

Martin Snape, Canada
People like Suharto and Pinochet do not have the right to a ripe old age. They suppressed, tortured, murdered, stole and abused power generally. They should be brought to trial and the evil of their lives should be put on public display. The world community should not let crimes of such magnitude go unpunished, even if the accused has to be brought to the courtroom on a hospital bed.
Martin Snape, Canada

Suharto is a vicious, brutal man. He was so for 30 years while all this country did about it was sell him arms. This would have only been a show trial. How can justice possibly be served for such crimes? The international community needs the ability to punish or influence dictators when they are dictating, not as old people.
Andy O'Carroll, UK

It is always the same, people who do the most wrong are let off and the innocent always suffer.
Jane, England

IF proof exist of guilt all monies and property should be returned to the state.
J Smith, Australia


He should have been given a fair trial to bring to light whatever happened during his rule

Sebastian Kuzhikannil, India
Yes Suharto got off lightly. I don't think he was too ill to face the trial. He should have been given a fair trial to bring to light whatever happened during his rule. That would have given an impression that the corrupt, however big they may be, will be brought before the law.
Sebastian Kuzhikannil, India

I don't think he should have to go to jail, but I do think that Suharto, his family (all guilty parties) and friends should return the money to the Government and in addition pay a significant fine as penalty for stealing from the country.
Rudolph, USA

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See also:

28 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Judges dismiss Suharto case
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