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Courting corruption

Published: Sep 30, 2007

Indonesians in search of justice can go no higher than the Supreme Court. But whistle blowers have exposed deep-seated corruption within. Worse, the main whistle blower is now threatened with the sack.

IRIP News Service

The prestige of the judicial system has not been high for many years in Indonesia, but events in recent months have seen it drop to rock bottom. Worse, efforts by honest judges to lift it have been opposed vigorously by others, and apparently with success.

Sharp internal disagreements between judges in the highest judicial institution in the land, the Supreme Court, have become very public affairs. Two or three judges perceived by the media as good guys have blown the whistle on serious cases of corruption, hinting it is but the tip of an iceberg. Those on the other side of the dispute, meanwhile, have stuck together, shut their mouths within earshot of the press, and pushed for the chief whistle blower to be expelled from the Court.

Land case

It all started in mid-April 1996, when Supreme Court judge Adi Andojo Soetjipto acknowledged he had written an internal memo to the Attorney General's Department the previous December complaining of collusion between Supreme Court judges and plaintiffs over a Jakarta land case involving a bribe of Rp 1.4 billion (AU$ 780 000). Though denying responsibility for leaking the document, he spoke to it vigorously, naming the Supreme Court officials who had bypassed him and channeled the case to a certain judge (Samsoedin Abubakar). The case in question had been speeded up before Samsoedin was to retire.

Adi Andojo pushed for an investigation of the Supreme Court's handling of the so-called Gandhi Memorial School case, but wanted it carried out by the Vice President, fearing a snow job if it was kept internal. His fears were realised in June. The internal investigatory committee under Supreme Court judge Sarwata declared it had found no evidence of collusion in this case, though there had been 'incorrect procedure'.

Sarwata's committee had been under constant pressure from the press and independent legal specialists to move forward, but had shown little enthusiasm for its job. It did not show up for a hearing with parliament. It even refused to ask Adi Andojo for his evidence, until Adi threatened to expose all to the press in mid-May.


Adi Andojo had already become something of a popular hero for his decisions favouring victims up against the powers. He had exposed a bogus decision someone had succeeded in passing off as a Supreme Court document. He freed all the civilians convicted by a lower court in the 1993 Marsinah murder case. It was widely suspected they had been framed by the military. And he freed labour leader Muchtar Pakpahan, held responsible for the labour demonstrations in Medan in April 1994.

Inspired by Adi Andojo's example, other respected lawyers were also stung into speaking out about the condition of the legal system. Prof Sunaryati Hartono, head of the National Legal Development Authority (BPHN) said: 'As Head of BPHN I don't accuse anyone when I say our law is seriously ill, but I am anxious that we should want to cure that illness. I have been a lawyer for 41 years. I left the law courts because I could no longer stand to see the sickness. I can understand it if Adi Andojo also can stand it no longer. That's the reality. We have to improve it'.

Retiring Supreme Court judge Prof Asikin Kusumaatmadja said a couple of years ago 50% of judges were corrupt. Independent Surabaya lawyer Trimoelja D Soerjadi, chairman of the Indonesian Barristers Association (AAI), says the real figure is in excess of 90%. 'The situation is much worse than people think', he said.


In retaliation for his disloyalty over the Gandhi Memorial School affair, Adi Andojo's powers were curtailed. He received anonymous death threats over the telephone. But he was not so easily cowed. When the Sarwata committee announced there had been no collusion, Adi Andojo went public again with more details of the affair in question. Chief Judge Soerjono then got all the senior Supreme Court judges together, without inviting Adi Andojo, and together they sent a letter to President Suharto asking him to sack Adi Andojo for breaking Court discipline. The only judge who refused to sign was M. Djaelani, of whom more below.

The President is obliged to act on this letter. But it is quite unprecedented to dismiss a Supreme Court judge, much less dishonourably. Law professor Sri Soemantri Martosoewignjo said to sack him would be 'a black page in Indonesian legal history'. No doubt aware of Adi Andojo's public support, the President had by mid-November not issued the sacking order, although it is reported to be lying, signed, on his desk.

The news of the sacking order led to another outpouring of public dismay. Several groups of students launched hunger strikes, more in support of Adi than to bemoan the parlous state of the Supreme Court. Adi Andojo and his wife travelled to see them - once as far as southern Sumatra - to plead with them to stop. Dramatist Adi Kurdi wrote an admiring play about Adi Andojo for a prestigious Jakarta theatre. The Indonesian Bar Association (Ikadin) called for Soerjono to be sacked instead, and for Adi Andojo to be installed as Chief Judge.

Adi Andojo accused Chief Judge Soerjono of being 'very weak in the face of external pressure'. Soerjono brought down an avalanche of 'inviolable memos' (surat sakti), which undo the entire legal process up till that moment. These memos, for example instructing lower courts not to implement a decision, have no force of law. But in the patron-client atmosphere of the civil service they are just as effective. Many of these memos undo decisions awarded to claimants against the state in land cases. The memos, said Trimoelja, 'wreck the entire legal system'.


Adi Andojo was not the only Supreme Court judge to oppose Soerjono. Another was Muhammad Djaelani, who issued a damning internal report when he retired on 1 September. A copy of this report was obtained by IRIP News Service. Djaelani introduced it with an apology for having been unable to make improvements in his four years as deputy chief, 'even though I realised much needed to be improved'. He went on: 'If we were able to look down on the Supreme Court from above, we would not see a single thing that was right'.

As Adi Andojo had done, Djaelani pointed out several of the weakest spots in the system, in particular the bureau allocating cases to certain judges, and the bureau in charge of disciplining corrupt judges. He criticised Soerjono's unwillingness to act on his proposal to sack 10% of the approximately 4000 judges for corruption.

He showed there were more kinds of corruption than most people realised: not simply between judges and vested interests outside who pay them, but between various levels and between departments within the legal system.

Djaelani had been favoured to become Chief Judge back in 1994, after he did a reasonably good job heading the formal inquiry into the Dili massacre of 1991. Ironically, his failure to win the job was at the time widely seen as a setback for military influence in the Supreme Court, since Djaelani was a retired army Major-General.

New Chief

Soerjono retired on 1 November. Unless the President now brings down the expulsion order, Adi Andojo has six months to continue his campaign for a cleaner Supreme Court, until he too retires on 1 May 1997. He is demanding the Sarwata report be made public. But with the author of that report now in charge of the Supreme Court, he will not have it easy.

Adi Andojo said of Sarwata: 'He lacks professionalism'. Of Sarwata's newly appointed assistant TH Ketut Suraputra he said: 'He is better, but he is indecisive and scared'. In the public eye both were morally defective, he added, because they had refused to reply to the many accusations made against them in the press. Other lawyers pointed out that neither had much experience handling significant cases.

Sarwata has spent most of his career as a military judge, achieving the rank of Air Commodore in the air force. In 1966 Suharto appointed him to the extraordinary military tribunal Mahmilub, where he tried several well-known figures connected with the G30S affair, including Sjam Kamaruzzaman. He spent most of the 1980s outside the legal system.

In 1986 Sarwata's name was linked to a land scandal whilst on secondment to the Lands Department (Agraria). He and Suraputra both sat on the tribunal that last June killed the appeal by former Tempo editor Goenawan Mohamad against the magazine's banning in 1994. Goenawan had won his case in two lower courts, but the Supreme Court introduced no new argumentation when it rejected the appeal.


There have been, and there are still, honest judges in the Supreme Court. Adi Andojo himself is easily the most senior judge in the Court. He spoke highly of Soewardi Martowirono as an alternative candidate for Chief Judge. Former Supreme Court judge Bismar Siregar, known for his decisions favouring the poor, has become a popular columnist. He writes often about the 'filth' in the Supreme Court. But, for now at least, the good guys are on the back foot.

The author is an Australian academic.

Inside Indonesia 49: Jan-Mar 1997

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