Subject: Why Justice for Munir Is So Important for Indonesia [a JP Op-Ed]

The Jakarta Post

Thursday, June 19, 2008


A Test Against Poisonous Politics

Usman Hamid and Matthew Easton, Jakarta, New York

During the Munir murder trial of Garuda Indonesia pilot Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, demonstrators in masks held up signs saying "we don't want a scapegoat, we want the masterminds." With the arrest of the former senior intelligence official Muchdi Purwopranjono, their hopes are one step closer to being fulfilled.

For those who have not been following the case, or who thought it was already closed with the conviction of two airline employees, it is important to explain why Muchdi was arrested, and why his effective prosecution is so important for Indonesia.

It has long been a matter of public knowledge that the man recently sentenced to 20 years in prison for carrying out Munir's poisoning (murder), Pollycarpus, called Muchdi's phone 41 times around the time of the crime. Muchdi claimed he could not control who used his phone, and has denied knowing Pollycarpus altogether.

Recent trials of Garuda employees -- charged with providing Pollycarpus with the documents that allowed him to fly on the same plane as Munir -- have revealed further evidence of Muchdi's ties to Pollycarpus and to the crime itself. The former Garuda Indonesia president, Indra Setiawan, has stated he met Muchdi at the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) office to discuss the assignment letter for Pollycarpus.

In addition, BIN agent Budi Santoso has stated that Pollycarpus and Muchdi knew each other very well. According to Budi, Pollycarpus and Muchdi regularly contacted him to arrange meetings with each other. (It is thought that Pollycarpus and Muchdi first met when Muchdi was a District Military Commander in Jayapura, Papua, between 1987-1993).

Furthermore, Budi stated that Muchdi ordered him to pay millions of rupiah to Pollycarpus before the murder, and again when the copilot was under investigation.

As for a motive, in 1998 Muchdi was fired from his position as commander of the Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) after his alleged role in the disappearance of pro-democracy activists was exposed by a young human rights activist named Munir, who originally coordinated Kontras.

More recently, even while denying any role in the murder, Muchdi told police that Munir had been much too vocal in his defense of human rights.

This case is so important for Indonesia to believe in change. This evidence, plus any more information that police have uncovered during their investigations, provides strong justification for prosecuting the former intelligence official.

While any criminal case should be based purely on the evidence and the law, it is worth reviewing just why it is so important that the prosecution be carried out effectively.

It has now been 10 years since the reformasi era began with the fall of Soeharto. One of the single biggest disappointments has been the failure to successfully prosecute any of the gross human rights violations of the Soeharto era. The state failed to punish perpetrators of the 1999 crimes in East Timor, the 1984 Tanjung Priok shooting, the 1989 Talangsari shooting or the 1998/1999 Trisakti, May and Semanggi incidents.

What was once a list of brutalities is now also a list of incomplete investigations and failed trials. The Munir case undermines the image of reform even more starkly because he was killed six years after the fall of Soeharto, and within days of the nation's first direct presidential election. This is why President Yudhoyono has called this case "a test of our history".

If the Munir's murder is a test case for impunity, it is also an indicator of other essential aspects in Indonesia's political development. The case demonstrates the need for effective reform of the intelligence sector, and to understand the nature and role of intelligence in its relationship to wider issues in politics and security in Indonesia. And also for legal and policy measures to ensure that human rights defenders can carry out their work safely from Aceh to Papua. These are among the reasons that Munir's supporters have adopted the slogan "Justice for Munir is justice for all."

With the arrest of Muchdi, police and prosecutors will be taking an important step forward to meet the challenge that President Yudhoyono has laid out for them. But Indonesia's recent history is littered with weak indictments, acquittals, changing testimony and other breakdowns in accountability.

Prosecutors will need the full backing of their supervisors and their government to deliver strong indictments. Witness protection and prompt investigation of any attempts at provocation by hired thugs or opponents of reform will be necessary to ensure the integrity of the trial.

It is also essential that police, prosecutors, and the Indonesian public knows that the international community has not forgotten about this case and expects the government of Indonesia to meet its international obligations to provide justice to Munir, his family and the whole community of Indonesia.

This is a case of an internationally known human rights activist murdered abroad, followed by an investigation that has included Dutch coroners and FBI agents, drawing attention from bodies including the U.S. Congress, Australian MPs, European Parliament and the UN.

At this crucial stage, representatives from the U.S. government, the new Australian leader, the European Union, and countries in Asia should send trial observers throughout the trial to demonstrate their concern and to ensure a that it remains transparent and effective.

Usman Hamid is executive director of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras). Matthew Easton is director of the Human Rights Defender Program at Human Rights First (formerly Lawyers Committee for Human Rights).

Back to June menu

World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu