Subject: Muchdi's Acquittal: SBY's Broken Promise [+Komnas HAM to Investigate Verdict]

also: JP: Rights body to examine Muchdi verdict

The Jakarta Post

January 3, 2009

Muchdi's acquittal: A question of a broken promise

Imanuddin Razak, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

It is not surprising that Maj. Gen. (ret) Muchdi Purwopranjono, a former deputy to the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief, was eventually acquitted of all charges laid against him in connection with the September 2004 murder of rights activist Munir Said Thalib.

Legally speaking, we cannot criticize the South Jakarta District Court judges for acquitting Muchdi, as all the evidence presented in court was weak, and the key witnesses who initially testified against Muchdi eventually withdrew their testimonies over legal technicalities.

What is evident from Muchdi's acquittal is the failure of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's government, if not of the President himself, to fulfill the government's and his own promise to Munir's widow, Suciwati, to close the case -- that is, to discover the executor(s) and the mastermind behind Munir's murder.

The court's decision, handed down on Wednesday, displayed Yudhoyono's inability to exercise his power as president -- not to influence the judges on the verdict, but to ensure that the investigation to build the case against Muchdi was conducted thoroughly and transparently.

Public doubts about the seriousness of Yudhoyono's and his government's commitment to uncovering the truth behind the murder started to arise because of the President's unshaken stance against revealing the results of the investigation carried out by the government-sanctioned fact-finding team (TPF).

It remains unclear whether the TPF report was used by the police as the foundation for building the case against Muchdi and the other defendants; none of the leading and key officers at BIN believed to have known about the case were questioned.

Even a key witness, BIN agent Budi Santoso, failed to appear in court to testify. Budi had alleged Muchdi's involvement in the murder in his written statement read out during the previous, separate, trial of Garuda Indonesia pilot Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto -- another defendant in the murder case.

The courts found Pollycarpus and former Garuda president Indra Setiawan guilty, sentencing them to 20 years' and 12 months' imprisonment, respectively, for their roles in the murder.

Munir died from arsenic poisoning aboard a Garuda Indonesia flight from Singapore to Amsterdam, on Sept. 7, 2004. Pollycarpus was found guilty of administering the poison.

In his testimony, Budi said that, on Muchdi's orders, he gave Pollycarpus Rp 10 million (US$1,075) on June 14, 2004, and another Rp 3-4 million for unknown purposes when Pollycarpus was under investigation in connection with Munir's murder.

It was, among other things, the prosecutors' failure to have Budi Santoso testify in court and to provide substantial evidence to prove the allegations against Muchdi that meant the judges eventually acquitted the former chief of the Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) of all charges.

Muchdi is now a free man. And unless the prosecutors can find new evidence to build a new case against him, he will be a free man forever.

Muchdi's acquittal has therefore led to uncertainty as to whether the full details of the murder will ever emerge, as it is widely believed that neither Pollycarpus nor Indra Setiawan was the central figure behind Munir's murder.

The name of another senior BIN officer was mentioned during the trials of both Pollycarpus and Muchdi -- then deputy BIN chief M. As'ad. But should a case be built against As'ad in the future, it will very likely end up the same way as the one against Muchdi, as there is unlikely to be any substantial evidence that can be used against As'ad.

The remaining question will only be about Yudhoyono's and his government's commitment to protecting human rights, especially the promise he made to Munir's widow.

Muchdi's acquittal could prove an obstacle to Yudhoyono's bid for reelection. The incumbent has won praise, locally and internationally, for his government's anti-corruption campaign. He has also taken the credit for twice lowering the price of fuel, even though this was more due to the decreasing price of oil globally. But he could lose some support from human rights activists and justice seekers, as a repercussion of Muchdi's release.

Yudhoyono must therefore refresh his commitment to human rights protection, making solving the Munir murder case the chief priority. Otherwise, he could lose public trust and might have to forget his dream of serving another term.


The Jakarta Post January 3, 2009

Rights body to examine Muchdi verdict

Dian Kuswandini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) plans to review a court verdict in which former top spy Muchdi Purwopranjono was acquitted of all charges in the murder of human rights activist Munir Said Thalib.

The move comes as public suspicion grows that the verdict was part of a political machination allegedly cooked up by the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) and law enforcers to get Muchdi off the hook.

Observers point to the retractions of testimonies by witnesses from the BIN, of which Muchdi was once a deputy chief, to back up the allegations.

"We will discuss the urgency of examining the verdict at our next plenary meeting. The results of the 'public examination' will be presented to the Supreme Court as a recommendation," Komnas HAM chairman Ifdhal Kasim said Friday at a press conference.

"We have acknowledged there was a game played by BIN agents during the Muchdi trial, in which they retracted the testimonies they had given to the police."

Strangely, Ifdhal added, this unusual circumstance was overlooked by the panel of judges at the South Jakarta District Court when considering the verdict handed down Wednesday.

During Muchdi's trial, BIN agents Kawan, Zondhy Anwar and Arifin Rahman revoked their testimonies, as did BIN employees Suradi and Imam Mustopha.

Another witness, BIN agent Budi Santoso, failed to turn up at the trial despite dozens of summons filed by prosecutors.

"The police investigated this case for more than a year. This shows how careful they were in handling it," Ifdhal said.

"But the moves made by those BIN agents rendered all that hard work meaningless. The Supreme Court must see what's behind this when examining the verdict."

Prosecutors say they are preparing to appeal to the Supreme Court against the district court ruling.

Legal expert and legislator Yasonna Laoly, from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), expressed similar views, saying the retractions could indicate intervention by certain parties.

"The Supreme Court should consider this when examining the verdict. It's strange that so many witnesses from the BIN all did the same thing," he said.

"The public has long lost its trust in the Supreme Court. Handling the Munir case seriously would be a good opportunity for it to boost its image."

University of Indonesia legal expert Topo Santoso said rescinding testimonies was normal in trials, but added the judges should have further investigated the slew of retractions.

He also said prosecutors could use the appeal to argue for evidence that had been dismissed by the judges from the verdict.

"Prosecutors can outline the evidence ignored by the district court judges, so the Supreme Court judges can find and examine any failings," Topo said.

Eva Kusuma Sundari, a legislator on the House of Representatives' Commission III, which oversees legal affairs, criticized the judges for only considering the formal evidence in making their decision for Muchdi.

The judges, she went on, should have considered the material evidence, or that not presented by prosecutors but still appearing during the trial.

"This resulted in an unfair verdict. Note that all this time, those punished for human rights abuses in this country have only been the perpetrators, never the masterminds," she said.

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