Asian Centre for Human Rights

Dedicated to promotion and protection of human rights in Asia

[The weekly commentary and analysis of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) on human rights and governance issues]

Embargoed for: 21 December 2005
Review: 104/05

Munir's Murder: Assassin down, masterminds to go?

The sentencing of a pilot of Indonesian national airline Garuda, Mr Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto to 14 years in jail on 20 December 2005 by Central Jakarta District Court for the murder of Indonesia's fearless human rights defender, Munir Said Thalib on 7 September 2004 aboard a Garuda flight is a step in the right direction. However, it seriously falls short of identifying the masterminds of the murder. The role of Pilot Priyanto in the "premeditated murder and of falsifying documents (in order to fly aboard the same plane

Munir, Courtesy: BBC News

as Munir)" has been established beyond any reasonable doubt. At the same time, the fact that officials of Indonesia's powerful spy agency, State Intelligence Agency (BIN), masterminded the murder has also been established beyond reasonable doubt. The issue is whether President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) will ensure compliance with the order of the Central Jakarta District Court to the law enforcement agencies to further investigate the high-profile murder so as to find the masterminds of the murder.

I. Murder most foul

Munir became an icon for fearlessly defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. He earned the wrath of the military for taking up the cases of numerous activists who disappeared in suspicious circumstances as well as for exposing violations committed by the Indonesian military across the country during the rule of former President Soeharto.

After the fall of Soehartio, Munir continued his struggle for demcoracy and human rights. On 26 and 27 May 2002, approximately 100 members of the paramilitary youth group Pemuda Panca Marga (PPM) attacked the offices of Kontras, a NGO Munir co-founded, in Jakarta after he criticised the Government's decision to launch a military offensive in Aceh. The PPM members, many of whom are the children of veterans, reportedly destroyed office equipment and injured three Kontras staffers. Among those injured was coordinator Ori Rachman, who was forced to sing a patriotic song and beaten when he did not know all of the words. Jakarta police failed to answer Kontras' calls for help during the May 26 attack. Police Chief Sukrawardi Dahlan reportedly explained that all his officers were at a meeting at the time and were unable to respond. On 28 May 2005, TNI commander General Endriartono Sutarto stated that Kontras should reflect on the attackers' motivation.

Munir consistently received death threats. He once said he had lost count of the number of death threats he had received.

On 7 September 2004, Munir was found dead aboard a Garuda flight from Jakarta to the Amsterdam. When the flight made a stopover at Singapore airport, Munir is said to have sent an SMS text message to his wife telling her that he was feeling ill. A few hours later he was dead. His death had been put down to natural causes by the Indonesian government. But an autopsy by the Dutch authorities found a lethal dose of arsenic, of nearly 500 milligrams, in his bloodstream. The arsenic was laced in the orange juice served to Munir. After the findings of the autopsy, Indonesian government was forced to take some action.

II. Pilot Pollycarpus: An accomplice, not the mastermind

The police charged Garuda pilot Mr Pollycarpus for the murder and named two others - Oedi Irianto, who was working in the galley in the flight Munir died on, and stewardess Yeti Susmiarti, as suspects.

Mr Pollycarpus admitted to giving his business class seat to Munir during the flight from Jakarta to Singapore.  In addition to conspiring to murder Munir, Pollycarpus was also found guilty of forging a letter that authorized him to travel to Singapore as an aviation security officer to ensure that he was on the same flight as Munir. Pollycarpus had initially been assigned to fly to Bangkok from 5 September 2004 to 9 September 2004, but he produced falsified documents so as to be able to be on the same flight as Munir to the Netherlands on 6 September 2004.

Lawyers for Mr Pollycarpus have accused prosecutors of fabricating a motive for the killing. They said Mr Pollycarpus had been made a scapegoat because the real murderer had not been found.

III. The masterminds: The State Intelligence Agency (BIN)

"There are indications of [the intelligence agency's] involvement... but we cannot say whether the agency was involved as an institution or whether it was just individual officers," said Asmara Nababan, deputy chairman of the fact finding team, set up by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) to assist police in investigating the case.

The fact-finding team set up by President SBY concluded that Mr Pollycarpus was an agent of the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) while serving as a pilot and that the murder was a conspiracy in which several BIN agents were involved. The team recommended that the police should also open an investigation into the former chief of the intelligence agency, Abdullah Hendropriyono, and several of his deputies, including Muchdi Purwopranjono, the former chief of the army special forces unit. The team recommended that three former BIN officials be questioned by police.

Mr Hendropriyono refused to testify in front of the investigating panel.

The prosecution however made startling revelations about the involvement of Mr Muchdi Purwopranjono. Prosecutors submitted before the court that 41 phone calls had been made from Muchdi's cellphone number (0811900xxx) to Pollycarpus (081584304xxx) before and after the murder, as evidence in a print out provided by telecommunications firm PT Telkom. "In those conversations, the two discussed the killing of Munir as he continued to sharply criticized the government and the military," stated presiding judge of Central Jakarta District Court, Cicut Sutiarso.

Mr Muchdi claimed that he did not know Mr Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto but acknowledged that there had been several phone contacts from his cellphone to that of Mr Pollycarpus by his aides. Muchdi has denied any wrong doing. "The court, however, disbelieves his denial as the telephone records show calls between the two cellular phones, one of which was Muchdi's official number," stated Judge Cicut.

IV. The price for speaking the truth

There are serious doubts as to whether police investigation into the murder of Munir will lead to the prosecution of the masterminds such as Muchdi. Brig. Gen. Marsudi Hanafi, who chaired the police team investigating the high-profile murder case, has been transferred into a non-portfolio job at National Police headquarters to halt the investigation process. A police team of 34 officers had been appointed to carry out the investigation after the fact-finding team's tenure expired in June 2005. However, only two officers, including Marsudi, were actually conducting investigations, while the rest had been given other jobs.

Mr Pollycarpus repeatedly said he had been made a scapegoat. If indeed, he is a scapegoat, time has come to name the masterminds as his complicity in the crime has been established beyond reasonable doubt.

Speaking the truth has never been easy in Indonesia, even after the fall of Suharto. Munir paid with his life. His widow, Suciwati was sent a death threat in a particularly graphic and gruesome form.  The threat was sent in a box containing the dismembered body parts of a rotting chicken along with a typed message which read: "Beware. Don't link the Indonesian military with Munir's death. Do you want to end up like this?"

Behind the nascent democracy lies the stronghold of the military on the State aparatus of Indonesia.  The prosecution of the masterminds of the murder of Munir will be the litmus test for President SBY’s commitment to rule of law and justice – the two key features of any democracy. Munir gave his life for democracy and human rights in Indonesia; and President SBY, the first democratically elected President, has a responsibility to bring the masterminds of his murder to justice.

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