Seven Years Later, Indonesian Government Fails to Bring Justice for Slain Human Rights Activist Munir Said Thalib

Washington, D.C.On the seventh anniversary of the assassination of prominent Indonesian human rights defender Munir Said Thalib, Human Rights First calls upon the Indonesian government to reopen an independent inquiry and bring everyone involved to justice.   A leading human rights lawyer and founder of several prominent human rights institutions, including the Commission for Disappeared Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS), Munir died on Sept.7, 2004 during a flight from Jakarta to Amsterdam. A Dutch forensic inquiry concluded he died of arsenic poisoning.  He was 38 at the time of his death and is survived by his wife, Suciwati, and two children.  In 2006, Human Rights First commemorated Munir and his work with its Human Rights Defender Award. “Munir’s human rights legacy in Indonesia has been immense.  A skilled researcher and brave advocate, he was at the forefront of documenting human rights abuses and calling for military and police accountability during the transition after Suharto,” said Human Rights First’s Quinn O’Keefe.  “Despite the risks of retaliation and the countless death threats, he did not shy away from demanding that high-ranking military officials be investigated and prosecuted for their involvement in grave human rights abuses occurring in places like Timor Leste, Aceh and Ambon.” Despite credible evidence of their involvement in Munir’s murder, no one at the highest levels of Indonesian Intelligence has been brought to justice for this crime. “There was an early promise by then newly-elected President Yudhoyono that Munir’s case would stand as a test to show how far Indonesia had come since Suharto’s reign. He quickly convened an independent investigation into the murder, but support soon waned as resources for the investigation became scarce.  To this day, the President has yet to release the report or its findings,” added O’Keefe. Two low-level players have been convicted for their involvement in the crime.  The first, a fellow passenger and Garuda airline pilot, Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, was convicted in 2005 and sentenced to 20 years. A sentence that the Indonesian government recently reduced by three months through an Independence Day “remission,”a move that has sparked concerns among the human rights community that there may be renewed pressure on the judicial system to release the only person serving any real time for Munir’s murder.  The other convict, a former president of Garuda airline, has already served his one-year prison sentence. In 2008, charges were brought against a former deputy of the state intelligence agency, Muchdi Purwoprandjono, for ordering Munir’s murder.  His trial was widely criticized because the court failed to compel witnesses to attend and those who did appear recanted their sworn statements or forget them all together. Muchdi was acquitted and set free. “Munir’s murder and the Indonesian goverrnment’s bungling of the subsequent investigations and prosecutions have shocked the international human rights community.  It shows there is no accountability at the highest levels in the Indonesian government for human rights abuses.  If this is the test case, the Indonesian government has failed on all accounts,” concluded O’Keefe. “A renewed independent investigation that would lead to recommendations for prosecution and a case review of past criminal proceedings is still as important today as it was seven years ago.  If President Yudhoyono really wants to show that there has been a credible transition to democracy, this should be high on his agenda.”


Published on September 6, 2011


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