Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s reputation is on the line as a military tribunal into the alleged extrajudicial jailhouse killings of four inmates by members of the nation’s Kopassus special forces concludes on Thursday, a human rights group said.
"The military tribunal is not only at stake with the verdict of the Cebongan case, but also Yudhoyono," Hendardi, the chairman of Setara Institute, said.
Three soldiers stand accused of storming the Cebongan Prison, in Sleman, Yogyakarta, and gunning down four inmates awaiting trial in the stabbing to death of a Kopassus soldier in a barrroom brawl. The killings, which were conducted under the cover of night, have been described as both an act of cold-blooded revenge and an all-too-real example of the "esprit de corps."
Second Sgt. Ucok Tigor Simbolon, the alleged leader of the gang of rouge soldiers, is facing a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison. His subordinates, Second Sgt. Sugeng Sumaryanto and First Corporal Kodik, face lesser sentences.
The outcome of the tribunal will shine a light on a legal process few activists trust and Yudhoyono, a former four-star Army general, has been reluctant to reform during his two terms in office. The president could have pushed for a redraft of the nation's Military Law to require members of the armed forces to face civilian courts.
He also could have demanded a team of independent investigators handled the case, Hendardi said.
Instead the military was allowed to investigate itself. By allowing soldiers to stand trial in a military court, the investigation stopped short of probing the involvement of higher-ranking officers in the March killings, he said.
He feared that the military would offer up these three soldiers as a sacrifice in an effort to protect the top officers allegedly acting behind the scenes the night of the slayings.
"The decision of trying the perpetrators in a military tribunal has closed the valve [on further investigation] and has allowed many of the parties allegedly involved to remain untouched," Hendardi said.
The National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM) is supervising the court proceedings. The military tribunal's integrity is on the line with the verdict of this case, Siti Noor Laila, head of Komnas HAM, told the Indonesian news portal Tempo.
Members of the House of Representatives Commission III, which oversees legal affairs, are also keeping a close eye on the verdict, commission head Gede Pasek Suardik, of the Democratic Party, said.
"If the military tribunal is not capable [of issuing a fair verdict] it needs to be re-evaluated," Gede told the Indonesian news portal Tribun News. "Everyone is equal in front of the law. But if it proves to be effective [at delivering justice], then it's debatable."
A verdict in the trial is expected Thursday afternoon.