Subject: AFR/Jakarta Observed: Munir Murder Arrest Puts Heat on Military
The Australian Financial Review
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Arrest Puts Heat on the Military
by Angus Grigg
It was a brazen murder that showcased how Indonesia's intelligence agency (BIN) liked to do business. It was September 2004 and the country's leading human rights activist, Munir Said Thalib, died suddenly on a Garuda flight to Amsterdam.
Arsenic was the cause and the trail pointed straight at the country's intelligence bosses.
But they appeared untouchable, just like in the days of former president Soeharto, when state sponsored killings were not uncommon. That was until last week, when Major-General Muchdi Purwopranjono, a former
deputy chief of BIN, was detained by police. He is likely to be charged with "premeditated murder" and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison or even the death penalty.
It is a huge break, though, in a case which President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said was a test for how much the country had changed since Soeharto's 1998 fall.
It also proves that the military is no longer above the law and demonstrates how its influence has waned under Dr Yudhoyono, himself a former general. Munir was an outspoken critic of the Indonesian military and its human rights abuses in Aceh, Papua and East Timor.
The activist, who had been tortured by the military, was leading a campaign to have Soeharto brought to justice. "He is a bad man who designed the human rights abuses committed during the regime - he must be held responsible for what he did," Munir told The Australian Financial Review in 2003.
Munir also alleged that Soeharto still controlled huge elements of the military and police.
The former president, who died earlier this year, has never been linked to the Munir case, but those close to him have strong connections with Muchdi, who saw plenty of action as a paratroop commander in Aceh, East Timor and Papua.
Since Muchdi's arrest there are those who say he has been a devout Muslim and good role model.
He served with a young Prabowo Subianto, who later became Soeharto's son-in-law.
Prabowo soon passed Muchdi in rank, but was said to have ensured his mentor received three promotions in three years and succeeded him as Special Forces commander in 1998.
But motive remains the central issue, especially as Muchdi was known more as a loyal servant during his career rather than an outright leader.
This raises questions about the involvement of those higher up.
A former BIN chief, Hendropriyono, has long been accused of involvement by human rights activists and Munir's wife, Suciwati.
She has campaigned for justice since his death and said the trail did not end with Muchdi. "Muchdi is not the mastermind," she said.
"There's still another person behind him. This case also involves those in green uniforms [the military]."
It's unclear who she means here but Muchdi was clearly close to Probowo and also former armed forces commander Wiranto.
Both Probowo and Wiranto will contest next year's presidential election, but so far neither man has been directly linked to the case. Any hint of a scandal however is likely to dent their already slim chances of even making it through to the second round.
This raises a further question: whether Muchdi, facing a long stint behind bars and possible death, will reveal if he was just following orders or working alone.
The 59-year-old, who retired in 2006, remains behind bars, but has been moved from Jakarta police headquarters to more comfortable digs in West Java. He has repeatedly denied any involvement with the case, which resembles a bad spy novel.
A Dutch autopsy and an independent fact-finding team concluded that Munir was poisoned using arsenic, while in transit at Singapore's Changi airport. He died in agony some hours later on the way to Amsterdam after repeated attacks of diarrhoea and vomiting.
Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, an off-duty Garuda pilot with links to BIN, was the prime suspect. He had repeatedly contacted Munir to check when he was travelling and the two were seen drinking together in Singapore.
Earlier this year Pollycarpus was sentenced to 20 years' jail for the murder, but many doubted at the time that those who ordered the killing would ever face justice. This was despite the independent fact-finding team set up by Yudhoyono uncovering phone records showing calls between Pollycarpus and a phone registered to Muchdi, before and after the murder. Muchdi testified at Pollycarpus's trial that someone borrowed his phone to make the calls and that he often lent it to his driver and other staff.
Upon Muchdi's arrest, Fadli Zon, a longstanding Prabowo supporter and Muslim firebrand, declared his friend innocent and said it was all a government conspiracy on behalf of "Western imperialists" to distract the public from the shock of higher fuel prices.
Arguments like this are not going to stand up in court, but many have questioned if prosecutors will be able to gain a conviction. Such doubts linger as former military personnel have so far been granted near impunity for past human rights abuses.