On Anniversary of Activist’s Death, New Evidence Demands Investigation

On the third anniversary of the fatal poisoning of leading Indonesian human rights lawyer Munir, Human Rights First called on the Indonesian government to immediately and fully investigate all of those implicated in the planning and execution of the murder.

Munir, a prominent critic of the state’s involvement in human rights violations, died on September 7, 2004, on a flight to the Netherlands after being poisoned with arsenic.

An off-duty co-pilot named Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto was found guilty, but his murder conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court in October 2006. Hearings are now underway to determine whether the Supreme Court will review their decision. The hearings have introduced new evidence that former senior intelligence officials may have been involved in the murder. However, at least one piece of evidence has disappeared and several prosecution witnesses changed their testimony on the stand, underscoring the need for a systematic investigation apart from the hearings.

“The current hearings are important, but are limited only to uncovering the truth about one man’s role in Munir’s death,” said Maureen Byrnes, Executive Director of Human Rights First. “There is an urgent need for a new effort by police and prosecutors to vigorously investigate all of those implicated by the evidence.”

President Yudhoyono’s spokesperson recently affirmed that even if senior officials are found to have played a role in the murder, “whoever is involved must be punished.” President Yudhoyono has previously called the Munir case a test for Indonesia, although he has never released the report of the fact-finding team he created.

“We welcome the pledge by President Yudhoyono’s office that the guilty will be punished, whatever their position,” said Byrnes. “Now is the time for concrete steps to make that pledge a reality. The president must ensure an investigation that takes the new evidence as a starting point, not the final word.”

If police and prosecutors are unwilling or unable to investigate former senior officials, Byrnes said, the president should appoint an independent commission with a robust mandate to follow the evidence wherever it leads. She added that such an investigation can put rumors to rest, encourage reform of the intelligence apparatus, and identify those responsible for the public murder of a leading figure.

In 2005 a presidential fact-finding team linked the copilot to senior intelligence officials through phone records. However, the officials refused to meet with the team and there is no evidence that police ever adequately questioned them.

To prepare for the current case review request, police took statements from new witnesses, including one man who says he was an intelligence agent once tasked with killing Munir. He was one of two witnesses who changed their testimony at trial, raising questions about possible intimidation. The hearings also revealed that the head of the state airline Garuda, Indra Setiawan, had received a letter from the State Intelligence Agency ordering him to assign Pollycarpus as an aviation security officer, enabling him to join Munir’s flight.

The letter was stolen from the executive’s car in late 2004. (Setiawan and a colleague will soon face trial in connection with the murder).

In October 2006, Human Rights First gave its annual human rights awards to Munir’s widow, Suciwati, on her own and her late husband’s behalf.


Published on September 6, 2007


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