Investigation Stalled in Murder of Leading Human Rights Activist
(New York) - One year after a leading Indonesian human rights activist was murdered after boarding a flight from Jakarta to Europe, the Indonesian government has failed to properly investigate and prosecute those behind Munir Said Thalib’s death, Human Rights Watch said today.
Munir, best known as a founder and director of the highly effective Commission for “Disappeared” Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), was most recently the director of the Jakarta-based human rights group Imparsial. The 38-year-old lawyer was one of Indonesia’s most prominent human rights activists.
On September 7, 2004, Munir died on Garuda flight 974 from Jakarta while en route from Indonesia to the Netherlands to pursue graduate studies. He complained of being unwell during the flight, and died just hours before the flight arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. Two months later, the Dutch Forensic Institute made public the findings of its autopsy, revealing that the cause of death was the presence of a lethal dose of arsenic in Munir's body. Subsequent investigations found that arsenic had most likely been added to a drink served on the first leg of the flight from Jakarta to Singapore.
“Munir’s murder represents a return to the bad old days in Indonesia when independent activists faced the risk of personal injury or even death,” said Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “Solving this case and bringing the killers and their sponsors to justice is a big test for President Yudhoyono’s government and its commitment to the rule of law.”
Human Rights Watch called on Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to set up a high-level committee to audit the performance of the police investigation into Munir’s killing and establish why key recommendations and findings of the Presidential Fact-Finding Team have apparently been ignored. The Indonesian police and attorney general’s office continue to ignore evidence and recommendations submitted to them by a Presidential Fact-Finding Team, which has implicated senior intelligence officers in involvement in the murder.
The Indonesian government should vigorously investigate threats and intimidation against members of the fact-finding team and others seeking justice for Munir’s murder, Human Rights Watch said. The government should also provide protection for those facing threats.
Munir’s widow, Suciwati, who has campaigned for accountability for her husband’s murder, has received death threats and been intimidated. In November 2004, a box filled with a severed chicken head, legs and intestines arrived at her house with a typed message saying, “Do not connect the TNI [the Indonesian army, Tentara Nasional Indonesia] to Munir's death. Do you want to end up like this?”
“The Indonesian authorities must aggressively investigate threats against those seeking justice in Munir’s case to ensure that witnesses can come forward,” said Adams.
Human Rights Watch called on state prosecutors to drop a criminal defamation investigation against two prominent human rights activists who are members of the fact-finding team. General Hendropriyono, the former head of Indonesia’s State Intelligence Body (Badan Intelijen Negara, or BIN), filed charges against Usman Hamid of Kontras (Indonesia’s Commission for the Missing and Disappeared) and Rachland Nashidik of Imparsial. Both Kontras and Imparsial are human rights group with which Munir was associated.
“Criminal law should never be used against peaceful expression,” said Adams. “The cases against Usman Hamid and Rachland Nashidik are thinly veiled attempts to shut down the investigation into Munir’s murder.”
Human Rights Watch also called on the Indonesian government to make public the final report and recommendations of the Presidential Fact-Finding Team established to investigate the Munir’s murder and to order the full cooperation of all state agencies, including BIN, with the police and any other official bodies investigating the murder.
“Munir was an extraordinary man,” said Adams. “This case is an extraordinary case that needs extraordinary measures to resolve it.”
In December 2004, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono established, by presidential decree, an independent fact-finding team to conduct investigations into the killing of Munir Said Thalib. The Fact-Finding Team (Tim Pencari Fakta) ended its six-month mandate on June 23 and produced a lengthy report with detailed findings and recommendations, which they presented to the police.
The Fact-Finding Team included an impressive range of civil society members, a senior police official and a prosecutor from Indonesia’s attorney general’s office. The investigation was conducted with the strong endorsement of President Yudhoyono, who also issued instructions to all state agencies to collaborate fully with the investigation.
When the Fact-Finding Team issued a summons to retired army officer, Lieutenant General Hendropriyono, head of Indonesia’s State Intelligence Body at the time of the murder, he refused to comply. He accused the team of “arrogance” and “character assassination.” Hendropriyono subsequently filed criminal defamation charges against two members of the fact finding team, Usman Hamid, the head of Kontras, and Rachland Nashidik, the head of Imparsial. They are currently being investigated for violating articles 310, 311 and 335 of Indonesia’s Criminal Code. The police have already issued a summons for questioning to Usman Hamid.
Reported findings from the Fact-Finding Team identify Garuda pilot Pollycarpus Priyanto as a primary suspect in the case. Pollycarpus had been issued with a special “aviation security” assignment to travel on Flight 974, traveling on the first leg of the flight only, from Jakarta to Singapore. According to Munir's widow, Pollycarpus also made several phone calls to their home to check on her husband’s flight plans. When the passengers boarded the aircraft in Jakarta, Pollycarpus allegedly offered Munir an upgrade to business class.
The Fact-Finding Team examined mobile phone records of Pollycarpus and traced several dialed numbers, one of which was a confidential line to the intelligence branch directed by retired Major-General Muchdi Purwoprajoyo, a deputy director of the State Intelligence Body. Records reportedly show that as many as 26 calls were made to Muchdi’s line, before and after Munir's death, and that there had been multiple calls between Pollycarpus’ and Muchdi's personal mobile numbers. Muchdi, a former head of Kopassus, the army's special forces, has recently resigned from the State Intelligence Body. He declined two requests from the Fact-Finding Team to appear for questioning. He has denied that he had made calls to Pollycarpus, alleging that his phone may have been used by someone else.
On August 9, the trial of Pollycarpus began at the Central Jakarta District Court, with chief public prosecutor Domu P. Sihite reading the charges against him. He was charged with committing or participating in the planned murder of Munir, either alone or in collaboration with two other named suspects, Yeti Susmiarti and Oedi Irianto, Garuda staff on Munir’s flight. However, in the indictment against Pollycarpus, the prosecution made no mention of the findings of the Fact-Finding Team, which suggested the involvement of senior employees of the Garuda airline and high-ranking intelligence officials in Munir's death.
In mid-August, the Jakarta daily newspaper Koran Tempo reported that the police had arrested a second suspect in the case. They identified him as Ery Bunyamin, a business class passenger on the same flight as Munir.
Munir, best known as a founder and director of the highly effective Commission for “Disappeared” Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), was most recently the director of the Jakarta-based human rights group Imparsial.
His legal aid career began in Surabaya in 1989 and included stints as director of the Semarang Legal Aid office and as chief of field operations for the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) in Jakarta. He represented many human rights victims and activists in high profile cases, and regularly spoke out for justice in the face of intimidation, including death threats. His work encompassed the full range of human rights concerns in Indonesia, from abuses by the Indonesian military and police to attacks on labor activists, from impunity for human rights crimes in Aceh, East Timor and Papua to the rights of Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese minority.
Munir was the winner of numerous honors, including being named Man of the Year in 1998 by a leading Indonesian Muslim periodical UMMAT, and a “young leader for the Millennium” by Asiaweek in 2000. The same year, he was one of the recipients of “The Right Livelihood Award”—known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize”—for “his courage and dedication in fighting for human rights and the civilian control of the military in Indonesia.”