The police are now prioritizing investigation of corruption cases over defamation lawsuits.
THE circular letter was sent by the National Police Headquarters at the beginning of last March to all regional police offices. The letter instructed the police rank and file to give priority to the handling of cases of corrupt practices if, at the same time, there were defamation lawsuits requiring their attention. Dated March 7, 2005, the letter was signed by Director III/Corrupt Practices and White Collar Crimes of the National Police Headquarters' Crime Investigation Agency, Brig. Gen. Indarto. "If the suspicion of corruption is proven, the job on the defamation lawsuit gets aborted," said Indarto.
The emergence of the circular cannot be separated from the intervention of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). Back on January 27, the Coalition of NGOs for Clean and Quality General Elections complained to the KPK, because its report to the KPK about suspected corruption amounting to about Rp600 billion in the General Elections Commission (KPU) had resulted in a defamation lawsuit filed with the Greater Jakarta Police. The coalition asked the KPK to protect the witness.
The KPK wasted no time in responding. Four days later, the super-body institution dispatched a letter to National Police HQ. Signed by KPK Deputy Chairman, Erry Riyana Hardjapamekas, the letter asked the police to consider temporarily deferring investigation on the libel and defamation case. The reason given was that the KPK was investigating a suspected corruption case in the KPU. It was in response to this request that Indarto issued the circular.
According to Indarto, however, because investigation on suspected corruption cases usually takes time, whereas a defamation report can expire after a given timeframe, the investigator is permitted to continue processing the defamation case. "But limited to asking information, not to be passed on to the public prosecutor," he added. Next to acting on the KPK letter, Indarto said, the circular he signed was in response to the numerous cases of suspected corruption that were followed by reports on defamation. "It's as if it has become fashionable," he said.
One case of reporting corruption that entailed a suit against defamation was that which befell Pastor Frans Amanue. This Chairman of the Larantuka Diocese's Commission of Justice and Peace was reported to police by East Flores Regent Felix Fernandez for defamation through the citing of alleged corrupt practices in the distribution of aid funds for flood victims. The pastor's trial so enraged his followers that they torched the Larantuka courthouse and the district prosecutor's office.
A similar fate came Koridor tabloid's way in Lampung. Because it carried an article entitled, "Alzier Dianis Thabranie and Indra Karyadi Strongly Suspected of Having Embezzled Rp1.25 billion in Golkar Party Witnesses' Fund" in its July 12-18, 2004 edition, the tabloid was reported to the police. Former Golkar figure and former Lampung Governor, Alzier accused Koridor of besmirching his good name. The case is now being processed in court, with the public prosecutor having demanded a two-year jail term for the tabloid's management.
Next came the case of Dradjad Wibowo, an economics observer and activist of the National Mandate Party (PAN). Because his opinion about the possibility of Adrian Waworuntu's involvement in the BNI bank swindle case was quoted by Koran Tempo, he was reported to police for slander and defamation. Oddly enough, police gave the impression of being quite energetic in processing this report, although the person who filed it was then in custody at National Police Headquarters as a suspect in the BNI scam. Fortunately, following his swearing-in as House of Representatives (DPR) member, the investigation slackened. This was the more noticeable when in early April the court sentenced Waworuntu to life imprisonment on being proven guilty of swindling BNI.
The police habit of seemingly defending corrupt persons and white-collar criminals obviously worries many quarters. "Actually, police should actively investigate the claim of corruption, instead of the person who makes that claim," said Press Council member Leo Batubara. He voiced the hope that the police circular would no longer make the public afraid of reporting cases of corruption.
Confirming that he had received the circular on prioritizing alleged corruption cases, the chief of the East Nusa Tenggara Police, Brig. Gen. Edward Aritonang, called on the public not to be afraid to report cases of corruption. "Should there be a denial from the corruption culprits in the form of a lawsuit, that would be put off until there is a legal ruling of permanent effect on the relevant graft case," he assured.
To NGO Coalition Defense Team member Hermawanto, the National Police's circular is a big step forward, though still not the maximum that can be attained. In his opinion, witnesses who report cases of corruption ought to be protected and granted immunity. "The processing of suits against defamation should not merely be deferred, but stopped," he said.
Hermawanto also bemoaned the absence of sanctions for police officers sidestepping the circular. "If there is any, it is but an ethical one," he observed. Indarto admits the deficiency, but claims that this does not mean a complete absence of penalty. "It will be put on record by the relevant superiors," he insists.
As for the protection of people reporting corruption, Criminal Code (KUHP) expert Romli Atmasasmita contends that it is actually already provided for in the KUHP. "The KUHP protects citizens who report punishable acts, including corruption," said the former Director-General of Regulation and Legislation of the Department of Justice. If a report is proven true, Romli said, the suit against defamation automatically becomes invalid. Even so, Romli remains appreciative of the circular. "Only, it should have been issued by the National Police Chief, just to make it more prestigious," Romli said.
Lawyer Atmajaya Salim, for his part, hopes that a similar circular will be issued by the Supreme Court, directed to judges in handling lawsuits against defamation. He noted in this connection that, next to being reported to police for defamation, those who report cases of corruption and white-collar crimes are, more often than not, subjected to civil suits. One case in point is Trust magazine, which was sued by John Hamenda, one of the suspects in the BNI swindle case, for alleged defamation by publishing an article entitled "The BNI Swindle Plot" in its October 1-7, 2003 edition. In May 2004, a court ordered Trust to pay a fine of Rp1 billion. The ludicrous thing about this verdict is that just a few months later--on November 4 to be exact--John Hamenda drew a 20-year jail sentence from the South Jakarta District Court.
Atmajaya Salim, Trust's legal counsel, holds that, actually, the trial of a case like his client's, should be deferred until the corruption case or the white-collar crime case in question has been completely processed. Not only would this be in line with the spirit of eradicating corruption, he said, but "it also would serve the principle of simple, cheap, and quick trial."
Abdul Manan, Jems de Fortuna (Kupang), Fadilasari (Lampung).
TEMPO, MAY 02, 2005-034/P. 20 Heading Cover Story