Ex minister sues teacher over book

16th September 2005 at 01:00
INDONESIA. A senior high-school teacher is being sued by a powerful former Cabinet minister for pound;500,000.

Civics teacher Retno Listyarti, author of a new book called High School Civics, is being sued for defamation by Akbar Tanjung, former House of Representatives speaker and leader of Golkar, the ruling party in deposed dictator Suharto's New Order era.

Material in the book has angered Mr Akbar, after being brought to his attention by one of his daughters, a senior high school student in Jakarta.

Mr Akbar was controversially acquitted of graft in 2004 in a Supreme Court ruling over misappropriation of funds belonging to the state National Logistics Board, which controls supplies of rice and other staples.

Many Indonesians continue to believe that some 40 billion rupiah (pound;2.2m) were diverted into Golkar's election "war chest". Another defendant in this scandal is serving two years in prison.

Ms Retno's book uses the trial to promote discussions concerning transparency and corruption issues as well as the government's social security programmes.

The judges were split over the charges of graft and Ms Retno presents their different judgements. Students are posed questions which include: "Was Akbar Tanjung guilty?" and "Did he deserve to be exonerated?"

Transparency issues are important in Indonesia as it struggles to nurture its democracy, the third largest in the world. Ms Retno, currently a post-graduate politics student at the University of Indonesia, is one of the few civics teachers taking these issues seriously.

Meanwhile, her innovative book is a rare departure from the highly bureaucratised fare presented to students, a legacy of the 32-year Suharto dictatorship. It provides students with internet links through which they can develop an understanding of democracy, transparency, corruption and globalisation.

The case, the first of its kind in the education sphere, went to court despite a reportedly conciliatory meeting pre-trial between the plaintiff and the defendant.

It follows a pattern of litigation in which high-ranking figures from the New Order era, including retired army generals, pursue massive claims for defamation. Retno Listyarti is being defended by a Jakarta-based legal aid institute.

The defendant says she hopes to win international support from teacher unions and other educational bodies.

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