Three years on, killer of Indonesian activist still at large

JAKARTA, Sept 6, 2007 (AFP) – Three years after the high-profile Indonesian activist Munir Said Thalib died on an Amsterdam-bound flight after imbibing a lethal dose of arsenic, the mystery of who ordered his death looms large here.

Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has said solving the September 7, 2004 murder of Munir, a 37-year-old father of two, would be a test of the nation’s progress in reform since the end of the repressive Suharto era.

So far, Indonesia has failed.

Pollycarpus Priyanto, a Garuda pilot who travelled off-duty on the fateful flight and is accused of links to the powerful national intelligence agency, BIN, was convicted of the murder in 2005.

Munir’s supporters believe someone else masterminded the killing and have campaigned to find out who, suspecting the answer lay within the ranks of BIN.

When the Supreme Court quashed Priyanto’s conviction in October last year, his supporters were stunned.

"We didn’t even get a scapegoat. This was crazy," Usman Hamid, a human rights worker for Kontras, one of the organisations founded by Munir, told AFP.

Thanks to widespread international support, a new head of the police’s criminal investigation department was appointed in 2006 and a new attorney-general installed this year, and the case has been rekindled.

A Jakarta courtroom has been hearing startling fresh testimony from a cast of characters seemingly plucked from the pages of a paperback thriller as state prosecutors seek to have the Supreme Court review their decision.

There’s the long-haired musician, who told police he saw Priyanto with Munir at a coffee shop at Changi airport during transit. He then changed his testimony on the stand, alleging he was whisked to Singapore, where he was warned he would be charged with the murder unless he testified to seeing the pair together.

There’s the detained former Garuda head Indra Setiawan, who was mortified to hear a tape recording aired in court of a phone conversation in which Priyanto assures him the pair have nothing to worry about.

"Almost 90 percent of state functionaries are on our side," including the Supreme Court’s chief and his deputy, the pilot said on the tape.

"And the justice will not be there, will never be there. You are only being sought to go after me, and this is in reality only a political game, so that SBY does not get prodded by the NGOs," Priyanto said, referring to the president by his initials.

Setiawan testified he had received a classified letter from BIN asking that Priyanto be assigned to corporate security, a move that allowed him to gain access to Munir’s flight.

The letter — now missing — links Priyanto solidly to the agency.

Then there is the junior intelligence agent, who told police he was ordered to kill Munir and recounted various plots, including asking a paranormal expert to cast a hex on the activist.

But he later told the court he was only ordered to monitor Munir.

Opinion on how the case will pan out, with its inconsistent evidence, is mixed.

Munir’s widow, Suciwati, told AFP that her grief "requires justice" and that she remains optimistic that the conspiracy will eventually be exposed.

"I’m expecting a good surprise that will bring this case closer to capturing the masterminds and bringing them to justice," she said.

But Ken Conboy, a security analyst who has written a book on Indonesia’s intelligence service, is not convinced.

"Recent Indonesian history is filled with these frustrating mysteries," he said.

"If someone intended this to shut (Munir) up, to send a signal to activists, it hasn’t been the result. The result is that the activists haven’t bowed down to this and Munir is much larger in death than in life," he told AFP.

Asmara Nababan, a member of a fact-finding team appointed by the president to uncover the masterminds — whose report was never made public — believes Priyanto should be re-convicted.

"But to find the one who made the decision… the evidence presented in the court is not enough," Nababan, a former secretary-general of the national human rights commission, told AFP.

He noted that BIN has been "an untouchable institution" for many years and that while Yudhoyono spouts the right rhetoric, he is not sure "that there is really 100 percent support from the president to police."

"If you recall the statement of the president — this is a test of history… I hope we pass this test with a good grade but we’ll see."

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