Baharuddin Lopa: Our Few Good Men

Remembering Lopa
(Aug. 27, 1935 – July 3, 2001)
By Lela E. Madjiah

JAKARTA (JP): It is one thing to be brave, and it is another thing to be brave in a country like Indonesia, where to raise your voice could mean the end of your career.

Indonesians can count themselves lucky to have had a few such people, including the late Attorney General Baharuddin Lopa. Lopa, too, could count himself lucky. The downfall of the Soeharto New Order government has given rise to continuous forts to stigmatize New Order elements and individuals and demands for the disbandment of the Golkar Party.

Lopa was among a very few New Order officials who escaped the anti-New Order cleansing, thanks to his reputation as a clean, honest and straightforward man. His appointment as attorney general brought new hopes for serious efforts to eradicate corruption in the country. And such short-lived hopes!

The corruption charges against former president Soeharto were to be Lopa’s test case. After all, bringing Soeharto to trial seemed to be one of Lopa’s obsessions.

“I only need two of the documents that the attorney general has and I would be able to drag Soeharto into court,” Lopa said as quoted by Asia Week magazine in 1999. He was fretting over then attorney general Andi Ghalib’s failure to bring Soeharto to court. Ghalib had summoned Soeharto and family members for questioning, but, eight months after Soeharto’s resignation, no charges had been filed.

Lopa moved swiftly on his promise to investigate all corruption cases the day he was installed as attorney general. On June 8, he put Soeharto on the top of his most wanted list. Lopa made the prosecution of Soeharto for alleged corruption his number one priority, said state prosecutor Umbu Lagalazore.

A blunt man, Lopa built a reputation as a serious, hard-working and honest man, traits that became more evident when he served as secretary-general of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM).

The years he spent at Komnas HAM reinforced Lopa’s reputation as a man of integrity. He lent credibility to the organization that was set up by former president Soeharto because of his uncompromising way. He saw things in black and white. To Lopa, there was no gray area when it came to human rights issues, even if that brought him into confrontation with his boss, then president Soeharto.

It was probably his religiosity that sustained him all those years, helping him survive the New Order current that was rife with human rights abuses and corruption. Indeed, when faced with the difficult task of upholding the law, Lopa always referred to the Holy Koran for guidance.

His blunt manner belied the fact that Lopa was also a man of great sensitivity as reflected in his poems. He wrote quite a number of poems, and many of them told of his obsession for truth and justice and his awe of God.

Lopa’s uncompromising way was both a strength and a blight. In 1970 he was transferred to Aceh following his relentless efforts to probe corruption cases in Southeast Sulawesi while serving there as head of the province’s prosecutor’s office.

The transfer did not discourage him and in Aceh he, too, continued his efforts to bring to justice corrupt officials. He was moved several times before he returned to South Sulawesi as chief prosecutor in 1982.

Several days after his appointment there Lopa made a public announcement, urging people not to bribe his officials. A month later he began a probe into a Rp 7 billion graft case. His next target was noted businessman Tonny Gozal alias Go Tiong Kien, who was notorious for his ability to evade the law, thanks to his close links to certain officials. Lopa brought him to court for involvement in a land scam worth Rp 2 billion. The case drew national attention because Tonny was acquitted of the charge while the two agrarian officials accused of assisting him were punished.

Lopa then ordered an investigation into the trial, but before the case was settled, he was moved to Jakarta and became an advisor to the justice minister. He spent three years at the post before he was finally appointed director general of correctional institutions in 1988.

Lopa made several breakthroughs in the prison system. One of his legacies is allowing married inmates to leave the prison for a brief period to spend time with their spouses, including to have sexual intercourse. Only model inmates have the right to the special visitations.

“And no one has escaped,” said Lopa.

Lopa made another great move during his brief stint as minister of justice and human rights when, in March 2001, he sent convicted timber tycoon Mohamad “Bob” Hasan from Cipinang Penitentiary in Central Jakarta to the notorious prison island of Nusakambangan in Central Java, in an effort to deter other corruptors.

“Hopefully, those who commit corruption will think twice, as they could also be sent to Nusakambangan — not just murderers,” Lopa said of the move made a month after he was appointed to the post to replace Yusril Ihza Mahendra.

The transfer was also aimed at preventing the case of Eddy Tansil from reoccurring, said Lopa.

Eddy was a prisoner who escaped after bribing wardens and walking out of Cipinang five years ago. He is still at large.

“Eddy Tansil was heavily guarded but still able to escape. Therefore, we decided to transfer Hasan to Nusakambangan, which is relatively more difficult to escape from,” he said.

With such a long list of brave moves, the nation was hoping that Lopa would keep his promise of bringing corruptors, the nation’s number one enemy, to justice, only to have those hopes crushed when he died on July 3, 2001.

Baharuddin Lopa

Born : Aug. 28, 1935, in Mandar, South Sulawesi
Wife : Indrawulan
Children: Seven


– School of Law, Hasanuddin University, 1962
– Regular Class, National Defense Institute (now the National Resilience Institute, Lemhannas), 1979
– School of Law, Diponegoro University (Master’s degree), 1982


– Prosecutor, Ujungpandang Prosecutor’s Office, 1958-1960
– Regent of Majene, 1960
– Head of the Ternate Prosecutor’s Office, 1964
– Head of the Southeast Sulawesi Prosecutor’s Office, 1966-1970
– Head of the Aceh Prosecutor’s Office, 1970-1974
– Head of the West Kalimantan Prosecutor’s Office, 1974-1976
– Head of the Research and Development of the Attorney General’s Office, 1976-1982
– Head of the South Sulawesi Prosecutor’s Office, 1982-1986
– Expert staff to the minister of justice, 1986-1988
– Director General of Correctional Institutions, 1988-1995
– Secretary General of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), 1994- Feb. 17, 1999
– Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Feb. 17, 1999 – June 27, 2001
– Minister of Justice and Human Rights, Feb. 8, 2001 – June 1, 2001
– Attorney General, June 1, 2001 – July 3, 2001

July 10, 2001

Courtesy: Jakarta Post


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