Investigation Stalled, Killers of Leading Rights Activist Remain Free
(London) - Two years after the murder of Indonesia’s leading human rights activist, the architects of Munir Said Thalib’s killing remain free, Human Rights Watch said today. Despite the conviction of an airline pilot involved in the killing, the police and Attorney General’s office continue to ignore the evidence and recommendations of a Presidential Fact-Finding Team that has implicated senior intelligence officers and airline officials in Munir’s murder.
Best known as a founder and director of the highly effective Commission for “Disappeared” Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), Munir was the director of the Jakarta-based human rights group Imparsial before his murder. The 38-year-old lawyer was one of Indonesia’s most prominent human rights activists.
Human Rights Watch called on Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to become personally involved in ensuring that those responsible for Munir’s murder are held accountable, no matter where the evidence leads. Yudhoyono should establish why key recommendations and findings of the Presidential Fact-Finding Team appear to have been ignored. In addition, Human Rights Watch called on Indonesia’s State Intelligence Body (Badan Intelijen Negara, or BIN) to extend full cooperation to the police and any subsequent independent investigation body.
“Identifying and punishing the masterminds behind Munir’s murder is a test for Yudhoyono’s commitment to human rights and the rule of law,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Yudhoyono is widely seen as a reformer, but if he can’t ensure that justice is done for the murder of the country’s most prominent human rights activist, there will be serious doubts about his commitment to reform.”
Munir was found dead on September 7, 2004, on a Garuda flight from Jakarta to Amsterdam. Autopsy results conducted by the Dutch Forensic Institute, released in November 2004, showed that Munir had died as a result of a fatal dose of arsenic poison. In December 2005, a Garuda pilot traveling as a passenger on the same flight, Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, was convicted of premeditated conspiracy to murder and sentenced to 14 years in prison. The verdict was upheld on appeal last April. The judge’s decision, however, noted that evidence during the trial indicated that Pollycarpus had not acted alone. The judge urged the police to conduct a further investigation to uncover those ultimately responsible for the death of Munir.
In a welcome move, President Yudhoyono instructed the police, prosecutors and intelligence officers to follow up the investigation after the Pollycarpus verdict. But nearly 10 months after the judgment, the police and the prosecutor have done little to follow up the case.
“It’s clear that Pollycarpus followed someone’s orders to murder Munir,” said Adams. “Civil society in Indonesia cannot operate with freedom and security so long as the masterminds of this killing remain free.”
Two years after Munir’s murder, Human Rights Watch calls on the Indonesian government to:
- Make public and publish the final report and recommendations of the Presidential Fact-Finding Team established to investigate the murder of Munir;
- Establish an independent body to audit the police investigation and Attorney General’s response to Munir’s murder;
- Establish another independent fact-finding team with a clear and strong mandate to continue investigations into the possible role of the security forces in Munir’s death, and ensure the full cooperation of all state agencies with the police and any independent body investigating Munir’s murder, especially BIN, as well as that of any senior airline officials who may have facilitated Pollycarpus’s actions on the plane; and
- Extend invitations to the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions to visit Indonesia in connection with Munir’s case.
Human Rights Watch also urged the prosecuting authorities to dismiss all criminal defamation charges filed by General Hendropriyono against Usman Hamid and Rachland Nashidik, members of the original Independent Fact-Finding Team. Criminal defamation violates the international right to freedom of expression and has a chilling effect on free speech.
Munir, best known as a founder and director of the highly effective Commission for “Disappeared” Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), was the director of the Jakarta-based human rights group Imparsial.
Munir’s 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.”
In December 2004, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono established, by presidential decree, an independent fact-finding team to conduct investigations into the killing. The Fact-Finding Team (Tim Pencari Fakta) ended its six-month mandate on June 23, 2005, and produced a lengthy report with detailed findings and recommendations, which they presented to the president.
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 still being investigated for violating articles 310, 311 and 335 of Indonesia’s Criminal Code. The police have issued a summons for questioning to Usman Hamid.
Reported findings from the Fact-Finding Team identified 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 the personal mobile numbers of Pollycarpus and Muchdi. Muchdi, a former head of Kopassus, the army’s special forces, resigned from the State Intelligence Body in 2005 but maintains informal ties to the agency. 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, 2005, 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. In December 2005, Pollycarpus was found guilty of premeditated conspiracy to murder. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison. This verdict was upheld by a court of appeals in April 2006.