Four years ago, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono promised that the killers of Indonesia’s top human rights campaigner, Munir Said Thalib, will be found and brought to justice. He notably told Suciwati, Munir’s widow, that finding the killers was “the test of our history.”
Last month, South Jakarta court acquitted Major-General Muchdi Purwopranjono, a deputy to the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) whom prosecutors had accused of ordering BIN agents to kill Munir to “avenge his dismissal” as the commander of the Army’s Kopassus special forces. Muchdi was dismissed from Kopassus after Munir accused his soldiers kidnapping 13 student activists in 1997-1998. But the South Jakarta court declared that the state prosecutors did not have enough evidence to link Muchdi to pilot Pollycarpus Priyanto.
Pollycarpus is a Garuda Indonesia pilot. Suciwati remembered that the pilot had once phoned her to confirm her husband’s flight details. On Sept. 7, 2004, Pollycarpus had been issued with a special “aviation security” assignment to travel on Garuda’s flight 974, traveling on the first leg of the flight only, from Jakarta to Singapore. Munir was flying in that plane for Amsterdam.
When the passengers boarded the aircraft in Jakarta, Pollycarpus offered Munir an upgrade to business class. Munir soon died inside the plane in the Singapore-Amsterdam flight. The Dutch Forensic Institute’s autopsy results showed that Munir had died because of arsenic poison. In January 2008, Pollycarpus was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for poisoning Munir with arsenic.
Another man, Indra Setiawan, the CEO of Garuda, was sentenced to one year imprisonment for complicity in the murder. Setiawan admitted that BIN’s deputy head As’ad Said Ali had talked to him about his special letter, assigning Pollycarpus to be an extra crew in the deadly Garuda flight. Setiawan said, “The government is Garuda’s chief shareholder. If they need to place a person there, then we are only management.”
But Pollycarpus and Setiawan are only operators in the murder. In December 2004, President Yudhoyono established an independent Fact-Finding Team to conduct investigations into the killing. It included some human rights activists, a senior police official and a prosecutor from Indonesia’s attorney general’s office. Yudhoyono also issued instructions to all state agencies, incuding BIN, to collaborate fully with the investigation.
The team examined Pollycarpus’ mobile and home phone records. They traced several dialed numbers, one of which was a confidential line to Muchdi’s BIN office.
The telephone records show as many as 41 calls were made to Muchdi’s telephone numbers, before and after Munir’s death. But the team did not proceed easily. Muchdi declined two requests to appear for questioning. He denied that he knew Pollycarpus, saying that his office and mobile phones may have been used by others. Muchdi’s boss, Lieutenant-General A.M. Hendropriyono, BIN’s number one man at the time of the murder, also refused to meet the team. He accused the team of “arrogance” and “character assassination.”
The Fact-Finding Team ended its six-month mandate on June 23, 2005 and produced a lengthy report with detailed findings and recommendations, which they presented to the police. The police arrested Pollycarpus and Indra Setiawan. Their trials took place for nearly three years.
The police only arrested Muchdi in June 2008. His trial began in August. But rather than focusing their investigation on BIN, the prosecutors narrowed their works on Muchdi’s “individual motive.” They built the prosecution on Muchdi’s motive to avenge his dismissal from Kopassus.
The prosecutors questioned neither A.M. Hendropriyono nor As’ad Said Ali. They also did not summon Yohanes Hardian Widjonarko, a businessman and a close associate to Muchdi, who paid Muchdi’s mobile phone bill. Widjonarko and Muchdi are also neighbors in the Kelapa Gading housing complex in Jakarta. Widjonarko is the treasurer of Kawula Alit Foundation, a private organization chaired by Taufik Kiemas, Megawati’s husband. In 2003, using funding from the Foundation, Widjonarko hired Alston & Bird, a Washington DC law firm, to lobby the U.S. Congress in resuming military aid to Indonesia. Alston & Bird’s lobbyists included Bob Dole, the former Senate Republican leader and 1996 presidential nominee. Meanwhile, Hendropriyono is a key member of President Megawati’s kitchen cabinet. The murder took place when Megawati was in power.
Munir’s colleagues called the prosecution “mediocre,” saying that President Yudhoyono did not give enough support to the attorney general’s office. The prosecutors even failed to bring a key witness, BIN agent Budi Santoso, to the South Jakarta court. Santoso initially testified that Muchdi had asked him to deliver some money to Pollycarpus. During Muchdi’s trial, other BIN agents Kawan, Zondhy Anwar and Arifin Rahman revoked their testimonies, as did BIN employees Suradi and Imam Mustopha. Some of them claimed to have forgotten basic facts or did not bring glasses during the police questioning.
Muchdi himself claimed he did not know Pollycarpus. " I was in Malaysia from Sept. 6 to Sept. 12, and I didn't bring the cell phone," said Muchdi, presenting his passport as proof.
"BIN never discussed Munir or his activities. He wasn't significant for BIN. We were concerned about bigger things like terrorism and separatism."
BIN agent Budi Santoso was the only witness who could link Muchdi to Pollycarpus. Haswandi, one of the three judges, read the verdict, “Despite the evidence of call data records (CDR) that show calls made between the defendant’s number and Pollycarpus’ phone numbers from Sept. 1 to Sept. 30, 2004, there is no other data to prove it was really the defendant who made the calls.”
Jakarta’s human rights campaigners were baffled with the prosecution and the verdict. Some questioned Muchdi’s credibility. Ifdhal Kasim, the head of Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission, said there was “a game played by BIN agents” during the Muchdi trial that ended up with the retractions.
“I don’t understand why the prosecutors didn’t present the voice records. We witnessed how scared the prosecutors were during the trials,” said Usman Hamid, who chairs the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence.
Human Rights Watch believed that the trial of a senior security official is an important event in Indonesia, given the long-term lack of accountability by members of the armed forces and intelligence services, dating back to the Soekarno and Soeharto era. Human Right Watch believed that the verdict preserved the legal impunity of Indonesia’military generals accused of rights abuses.
Suciwati herself, when learning the verdict, felt shocked. “This is very painful. Something that I feared has now come to pass. Today’s ruling proves that Indonesian justice still sides with human rights abusers.”
Muchdi, currently deputy chairman of the fascist Greater Indonesia Movement Party, chaired by Prabowo Subianto, another former Kopassus commander, has long claimed he was “a victim of foreign intervention” in the Munir case.
Yudhoyono will fight a tight presidential election this year against Megawati Sukarnoputri, who is running again, as well as Prabowo Subianto and Sultan Hamengkubuwono X. Yudhoyono is very unlikely to be able to solve this murder case prior to the election. Prabowo and Megawati are obviously not interested to solve this murder case. If Yudhoyono is to win the election, perhaps, he will still have time to solve this case. But if he is to lose, it will be fair to say that he has failed his test of history.
Andreas Harsono is a journalist and blogger, currently writing his book From Sabang to Merauke: Debunking the Myth of Indonesian Nationalism.