Indonesian rights groups call for truth about murder of Munir

In November 2004, Indonesia’s newly elected president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, pledged to bring to justice the murderers of Indonesia’s most prominent human rights activist, Munir Said Thalib. Yudhoyono called the killing a “test case for the nation” on “how much Indonesia has changed”. Six years later and one year into Yudhoyono’s second term, those who masterminded his murder remain free. Numerous other cases of past human rights violations remain unsolved. For many, Munir’s death represents one of the most obvious examples of the impunity enjoyed by human rights violators in Indonesia.

Munir died on a Garuda Airlines flight from Jakarta to the Netherlands on September 7, 2004. An autopsy by Dutch authorities found he had died of arsenic poisoning. Although two people were later convicted for the killing, rights organisations say that those responsible for masterminding the murder have yet to be convicted.

Munir’s work angered many powerful figures by exposing human rights abuses in Aceh, East Timor and West Papua, along with the military’s involvement in drug trafficking and illegal logging. He led an investigation into the abduction of 13 activists by the Army’s Kopassus special forces in 1997-98. Munir also founded the human rights group Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) and the Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (Imparsial).

Parallel investigation

In response to the outcry over Munir’s killing, Yudhoyono ordered an independent fact-finding team to work in parallel with the police investigation. This team gave the president its report in June 2005. It has never been made public, despite this being one of the recommendations in the presidential decree to establish the team.

A former pilot for Garuda Airlines, Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, was convicted of the premeditated murder of Munir and received a 20-year sentence in January 2008. A former Garuda chief executive, Indra Setiawan, was sentenced in February 2008 to one year as an accessory to murder for falsifying documents that allowed Priyanto to travel on Munir’s flight.

On December 31, 2008, Muchdi Purwoprandjono, a former state intelligence agency deputy who was sacked from Kopassus as a result of Munir’s investigations into the 1997-98 abductions, was acquitted of the murder. Rights groups say the trial failed to meet international standards of fairness after three key prosecution witnesses retracted their sworn testimonies.

In February 2010, a special National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) team identified flaws in the police investigation, prosecution and trial of Purwoprandjono and recommended a new police investigation. This has not happened.

Commemorating the sixth anniversary of Munir’s death, hundreds of people gathered in front of the State Palace in central Jakarta on September 7, calling on Yudhoyono to expose the truth behind Munir’s murder. Groups taking part in the protest included the Solidarity Action Committee for Munir (Kasum), Kontras, Imparsial, the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation, the Jakarta Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association, students and victims of human rights violations. The 700 protesters made speeches and performed a theatrical action complete with a human effigy wrapped in a burial shroud. Several wore masks with the faces of Yudhoyono, Pollycarpus and Purwoprandjono.

Action coordinator Poltak Agustinus Sinaga said that the effigy symbolised the fact that there has been no resolution for the victims of rights violations. “Many victims of human rights violations have died, but there has been no settlement. So we are asking for a full resolution”, he told Tempo Interactive. The aim of the action, Sinaga continued, was to call on law enforcement agencies to settle these cases, particularly the death of Munir. “The Munir case is now six years old but only Pollycarpus has been jailed. There has clearly been collusion to ensure the case ends with Pollycarpus alone”, he said.

Earlier, on September 5, the group Friends of Munir gathered to commemorate Munir’s death at the Kontras offices, where they held joint prayers and issued a statement condemning law enforcement agencies’ failure to solve the murder.

Kasum executive secretary Choirul Anam said that over the last few years the government has done almost nothing to resolve the case. Law enforcement agencies have failed to fulfil the public’s hope for justice as one of the principles of a constitutional state. “We have seen over the last few years that the Munir case has been systematically weakened and neglected. It is as if Munir’s death has simply evaporated ... The neglect of the Munir case is one among many instances of human rights cases being ignored”, Anam told Tribune News.

As well as questioning what follow-up efforts are being made, the Friends of Munir demanded that the government immediately arrest the intellectual actors behind Munir’s murder in addition to Purwoprandjono. They also called on the government to declare September 7 Human Rights Defenders Day.

Imparsial executive director Poengky Indrawati said that Munir had inspired a new generation of human rights activists. “Munir is a figure that inspires and encourages people to never give up the fight for their own rights and others whose rights have been violated. Munir’s principle was that if you are right then you must be courageous and that resonates in a lot of the young activists today”, she told the September 6 Jakarta Globe.

New attacks

In a statement on September 6, Amnesty International said that accountability for Munir’s killing was vital to protect human rights defenders. It called on the national police chief to initiate a new independent investigation into the murder to ensure that all those responsible are brought to justice. Amnesty added that the government must also make public the 2005 fact-finding report. “Human rights defenders must be allowed to carry out their peaceful activities without fear. Accountability for Munir’s killing will send a clear message that intimidation and attacks against human rights defenders will not be tolerated”, the group said. “The lack of full accountability in Munir’s case contributes to an ongoing climate of fear among human rights defenders, some of whom have recently come under attack.”

On July 30 the body of journalist Ardiansyah Matra was found naked and handcuffed in a river in Merauke, West Papua. Police investigations revealed that Matra was struck several times before falling into the water and drowning. Local activists believe his death may be linked to his work covering corruption and illegal logging in Papua, and the recent local elections in Merauke.

On July 8 two unidentified people brutally attacked and severely injured Tama Satya Langkun, a researcher for Indonesia Corruption Watch in Jakarta, who had been investigating suspicious bank accounts linked to several high-ranking police officers. No one has been arrested for either attack.