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Yudhoyono entangled in legal fight with critics

Publication Date : 28-01-2014

 

Rizal Ramli, a former minister who has become one of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s most vocal critics, balked at the president’s demand for an apology for what the latter deemed were “slanderous” statements.

Rizal, a former coordinating economic minister under president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, has challenged Yudhoyono to a legal battle, by rallying support from more than 200 lawyers.

Rizal said he had received a cease-and-desist letter from the President’s lawyer, Palmer Situmorang, for his statements on television suggesting that the President had chosen Boediono as his running mate in the 2009 election as a form of gratuity in return for the latter’s help in 2008 in disbursing the funds for the controversial Bank Century (now Bank Mutiara) bailout. Boediono was then governor of Bank Indonesia (BI).

“I really don’t understand. [Yudhoyono] and I just had a difference of opinion. Why must it end like this, where he wants to arrest me?” Rizal told a press conference on Monday.

Rizal said the 200 lawyers would help him fight what he called an “anti-democratic power”.

“I will prepare 200 lawyers to help defend me. These lawyers will voluntarily fight the anti-democratic power. They are my hope,” Rizal said.

Late last year, Yudhoyono hired Palmer specially to deal with the barrage of headline-grabbing graft allegations leveled against members of his family and inner circle. The lawyer’s main duty is to send cease-and-desist letters to those issuing allegedly slanderous statements in public, and suing them if Yudhoyono is not satisfied with their responses to the letters.

Senior lawyer Otto Hasibuan said Yudhoyono’s cease-and-desist letters were a threat to freedom of expression.

“The president’s cease-and-desist letters are threats to democracy and freedom of expression. I can barely think of any state leaders in the world who threaten to sue their own people,” said Otto, who heads Rizal’s team of lawyers.

Otto also questioned Palmer’s legal standing.

“Is Palmer is representing Yudhoyono as the President or purely as a citizen? He says that he also represents Yudhoyono’s family. We need clarification on which family members he is representing,” Otto said.

Contacted separately, Presidential spokesman Julian Aldrin Pasha made it clear that Palmer was not representing Yudhoyono as the President.

“Palmer is dealing with the President’s personal matters, so it would be unconstitutional if he asked the attorney general, as the state’s most senior lawyer, to defend him,” Julian said at the State Palace.

He said Rizal’s allegation that Boediono’s vice-presidential position had been linked to the Bank Century bailout was “a very serious accusation that is false and not based on facts”.

Several analysts have said they regret the President’s move to crack down on perceived slanderous statements made against him and his family.

 

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