Law and Justice

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Bringing Down the Untouchable

It is said to be impossible to put Soeharto, Indonesia’s former president, on trial for his corruption due to the man’s severe illness. The impossibility was pronounced by the members of Soeharto’s gang and, they claimed, by the law itself. Despite the disputes on the law, since it requires interpretation, some of our politicians—who might symphatize or antagonize Soeharto—suggested that we take a step beyond the law: the moral step. Among others, Hasyim Muzadi (head of PBNU) and Soetrisno Bachir (head of PAN) made such suggestion and explicitly proclaimed that we should take the moral step: forgive Soeharto.

            Suppose that Soeharto did corrupt (which might’ve been proved already), why should we forgive him when we know that corruption is obviously wrong? Soeharto’s gang would answer by saying that because Soeharto has given so much for this country. Well, Soeharto did give something to this country and to the people’s well-being. Progress was quite rapid under his leadership, and this fact made a lot of people long for Soeharto and Golkar’s regime when they felt that the Reform was failing. Just because some of us don’t want to let Soeharto get away with his corruption doesn’t mean that we don’t recognize his contribution.

            In fact, Soeharto has been rewarded accordingly. He was given salaries as president. He was being paid to do his job. And even more rewarding than billions of Rupiah, he was being called Bapak Pembangunan (The Father of Development) and had his face on our stamps, our paper money and everywhere. What could be more rewarding than having your name and your face immortalize in a heroic manner like that? Soeharto had his reward. But just as we rewarded him for his contribution we have to punish him for his guilt accordingly, and Soeharto did leave some mess. There is one principle that dictates us to put Soeharto on trial, a principle that must be firmly embodied in any law: justice.

            We should take the moral step, they say, by forgiving Soeharto. But what is morality? Which standard? No answer was given by either Muzadi or Bachir. We can differ in our morality, but as fellow citizens we must have and subject ourselves to objective rule: law and constitution. Isn’t that what we mean by ‘Negara Hukum’? Isn’t that what we mean by saying that our country is ruled by law? Whether he is a president or just a man dying in a hospital, Soeharto is still a citizen, i.e., a subject of law.

            To say that we should take the moral step of forgiveness means that we should go beyond the objectivity of law. It’s to say that we should resort to subjective whims. It’s to say that we should subordinate our reason to our sentiments. It’s to say that we should disrespect law. It’s to say that we should disrespect the claims of the victims of Soeharto’s wrongdoing. Worst of all, it’s to say that we should stop being consistent in our application of justice.

            If forgiveness is the pinnacle of morality, then we should forgive Amrozi, Hitler and bin Laden. Do you dare to ask the victims of Bali Bombs, Holocaust and 9/11 to forgive and let those criminals be free? I don’t, because they shouldn’t be forgiven. They should be put on trial. The same goes with Soeharto. His innocence (which is unlikely) or his guilt should be decided by a trial: a fair and honest one that is (which is also unlikely).

            “Is Soeharto really untouchable?” Our intellectuals are bothered by that question. No, it isn’t Soeharto that is untouchable. It is subjective, pseudo-morality such as those propagated by Muzadi, Bachir and other “forgiver” that will happily let Soeharto get away with his mistakes without trial. For Soeharto to be put on trial, we must all bring down morality from its untouchableness to its objective form: law and constitution. Both are our Bible. Reason is our apocalypse. Justice is our religion. Punishment is our forgiveness. Not to punish (i.e., not to forgive) a criminal means to stab him anywhere and anytime we please.