Attack on Indonesian Human Rights Supporters Highlights Need for Accountability

Human Rights First calls for prompt inquiry.

NEW YORK – A mob violently attacked members of a prominent Indonesian human rights organization outside a murder trial at the Central Jakarta District Court on Thursday morning. The defendant in that trial is accused of fatally poisoning a leading human rights activist named Munir Said Thalib on a flight to Amsterdam last year. Munir was a founder of Kontras, which frequently confronts the Indonesian military on human rights abuses.

According to eyewitnesses, a crowd of 30 people descended on the protestors, who included Kontras staff and the mothers of victims of past killings. The attackers destroyed posters and banners, and attempting to force women to remove their Munir t-shirts. Several demonstrators were beaten and forced off the courthouse grounds. Only one policeman was seen attempting to intervene.

“Even in an increasingly democratic Indonesia, some things never change,” said Neil Hicks, Director of International Programs at Human Rights First. “Whenever the demand for accountability mounts, mysterious mobs emerge to attack human rights defenders. Unless the authorities quickly identify and prosecute those responsible for such attacks, this will happen again and again.”

Mobs attacked human rights organizations, including Kontras, several times in 2002 and 2003, at a time when the groups were helping victims demand justice from high-ranking military officials. Eyewitnesses gave video footage and testimony about those attacks to the police, but there has been no meaningful attempt to prosecute the attackers of the previous assaults.

An official fact-finding report into Munir’s death found evidence of frequent contact between the defendant, Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, and senior officials from the State Intelligence Agency (BIN). However the government never released the report, and the prosecution has argued that the defendant acted alone. At Thursday’s court session two intelligence officials were scheduled to testify, and protestors were demanding that they be held accountable for Munir’s death. One banner read, “Don’t let BIN scapegoat Polly.”

“Today’s attacks only reinforce the major lesson of the Munir murder investigation: in today’s Indonesia some people remain above the law,” added Hicks. “The only way to end impunity is for the government to release the fact-finding report and back a full investigation into the role of the intelligence agency in Munir’s murder.”

A bipartisan group of 68 members of the United States House of Representatives recently sent a letter to the Indonesian President urging action on the case. The letter closes by noting “Munir devoted his life to finding the truth, and in the end he gave his life for that cause. Now his own death is the subject of an unprecedented fact-finding report. We strongly urge your government to fulfill Indonesia’s promise as an open and democratic society by publicly releasing the report and acting on its recommendations.”


Published on November 18, 2005


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