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Justice Denied for Slain Indonesian Rights Activist Munir

Accountability Failure Exemplifies Culture of Impunity

Indonesian protesters hold placards of human rights activists Munir Thalib in Jakarta December 20, 2005. © 2005 Reuters

This week, Suciwati Munir, the widow of Indonesian human rights defender Munir Thalib, will conduct what has become a grim, annual ritual – a public appeal for justice and accountability on the anniversary of her husband’s September 7, 2004 murder.

Despite then-Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s promise in 2004 that finding Munir’s killers was “the test of our history,” neither his government nor that of his successor, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, have taken meaningful steps to do so.

That failure is bitterly ironic, given Munir devoted his life to challenging Indonesia’s deeply entrenched culture of impunity. Munir founded the highly effective Commission for Disappeared Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) to campaign against enforced disappearances. In 2002, he established the Jakarta-based human rights research group Imparsial. That activism – and the powerful enemies it created in the government – likely led to his death from an arsenic-laced glass of orange juice he drank on a Garuda Indonesia flight from Jakarta to Amsterdam.

The official response to Munir’s death has led to more questions than answers about who ordered his killing. On December 20, 2005, a Jakarta court sentenced an off-duty Garuda pilot, Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, who had moved Munir from economy to business class, to 14 years in prison for administering the arsenic. Pollycarpus, who was also an agent for the State Intelligence Agency, was released on parole in 2014. An Indonesian court subsequently sentenced Indra Setiawan, Garuda’s then-chief executive officer, and Rohanil Aini, Garuda’s then-chief secretary, to one-year prison terms for producing falsified documents that let Pollycarpus get on that flight.

Those convictions aside, the prosecutions failed to uncover the full circumstances of Munir’s killing and the masterminds remain at large. Despite allegations that linked the order for Munir’s murder to the State Intelligence Agency’s former deputy director, Maj. Gen. Muchdi Purwopranjono, an Indonesian court cleared him of responsibility in Munir’s killing in December 2008 due to lack of evidence after trial proceedings dogged by allegations of witness intimidation.

Jokowi can end Suciwati’s long wait for justice for Munir by ordering the National Police to surrender any evidence withheld or overlooked during the trials of both Pollycarpus and Muchdi, as well as investigating allegations of witness intimidation related to the dismissal of charges against Muchdi in 2008. Failing to do so will only reinforce Indonesia’s culture of impunity.

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