Kontras Chairman Munir’s Murder

Posted by on Sep 2, 2018 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Kontras Chairman Munir’s Murder

Just thirty-eight years old when he died, Munir Said Thalib (photo inset) had founded the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) and was executive director for the Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (Imparsial). He died aboard Garuda Airlines Flight 974 from Singapore to Amsterdam on September 7, 2004. Munir was headed to the Netherlands to study law on a one-year scholarship sponsored by the Dutch Inter-Religious Organization for Development Cooperation. He became violently ill, stricken with vomiting and diarrhea. A doctor among the passengers gave him a sedative but Munir died before the flight landed in Europe. An autopsy in the Netherlands found he had been poisoned with a lethal dose of arsenic.

Munir was a prominent critic and persistent thorn in the military’s side. He and his Kontras associates were advocates for the victims of military abuses in Aceh, East Timor and Papua. He had called for then-Army Chief General Endriartono Sutarto to be placed on trial after the July 1999 Bantaqiah massacre in Aceh. He was outspoken in charging military involvement in the Christmas Eve 2000 bombing spree. In response to a TNI proposal to establish a new antiterrorism agency after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S., Munir alleged military leaders were trying to resurrect the Soeharto-era Operational Command to Restore Security and Order (Kopkamtib) security apparatus. He questioned why military members were tried before closed military tribunals for civil offenses rather than more objective civilian courts. Munir was involved in revising two draft bills before Parliament – an intelligence law submitted by the National Intelligence Agency (BIN) that would have allowed the agency to detain suspects without involvement by the police or courts and a defense law that would allow the TNI to take military action during an emergency without first notifying the President or Parliament.

A bomb planted at Munir’s family home in Malang, East Java failed to explode, while the Kontras office in Jakarta had been attacked on three occasions between 2000 and 2003. In March 2002, two days after Kontras organized a protest at General Wiranto’s residence, the thugs-for-hire Betawi Brotherhood Forum (Forum Betawi Rempug, FBR), led by local jawara (strongman) Fadloli el-Muhir, attacked Kontras offices, hospitalizing seventeen persons. The assailants demanded Kontras halt its investigation into the disappearance of political activists during Soeharto’s final days. Two weeks before Kontras attack, apparently on Governor Sutiyoso’s orders, the FBR had assaulted flood victims picketing in front of City Hall. During the months before the 2004 general elections, the FBR joined former Jakarta Police Chief Noegroho Djajoesman’s Save Indonesia Alliance, a coalition of thuggish groups backing General Wiranto. [1]

Munir had been an advocate for International Crisis Group Country Director Sidney Jones, deported in June 2004 on orders from BIN Chief Lieutenant General Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono based on her reporting about Jemaah Islamiyah and domestic extremist groups. Earlier, she had dug into the February 1989 Lampung massacre when troops under then Colonel Hendropriyono gunned down dozens of Muslim fundamentalists. In February 2002, on the massacre’s thirteenth anniversary, Munir had called on the government to remove Hendropriyono from BIN. Kontras was involved in the investigation into the kidnappings during the New Order’s last months, for which Army Special Forces (Kopassus) members – then led by Hendropriyono’s BIN Deputy, Major General Muchdi Purwoprandjono – had admitted guilt. Many officers resented Munir’s principled human rights agenda and his efforts to denigrate the security forces, apparently none more than BIN Chief Hendropriyono.

Munir was murdered two days after retired General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was elected. The new President replaced BIN Chief Hendropriyono and voiced his commitment to bring those responsible for Munir’s murder to justice. In December, he established a fact-finding team to assist the police investigation. In June 2005, the team presented a 100-page report with its findings. It was not made public although much of the information later came out in the trials. From the start, it was apparent intelligence officers were involved. BIN officers had harassed Munir before his journey; he had received threatening telephone calls; intelligence men had tailed him. Munir had been restricted from traveling abroad earlier; his trip to Holland was delayed several times. BIN Deputy VII (Information and Technology) Rear Admiral Bijah Soebijanto met Munir several times about the planned travel. Munir spoke with Hendropriyono by telephone before getting final clearance. The general told him the delays had resulted from an “administrative mistake.” [2]

The police implicated Garuda pilot Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, who admitted he was a BIN operative. Priyanto had approached Munir several times while he was awaiting travel clearance. In March, Priyanto asked Munir to carry a letter on a trip to Geneva; he refused. The Garuda pilot had been “overly friendly” and telephoned Munir’s home two days before his departure to confirm his flight plans. [3] At written request from BIN Deputy Director M. As’ad, Priyanto was assigned as a security officer aboard the same flight with Munir. Priyanto offered Munir his seat in business class and left the aircraft in Singapore. Another BIN officer, retired Colonel Bambang Irawan, a medical doctor and former Kopassus officer, was aboard the flight although his name was not on the passenger list. [4]

Later investigation showed thirty-five telephone calls between Pollycarpus Priyanto and BIN Deputy Muchdi during the period before and after Munir’s death. The calls involved Muchdi’s BIN office and his cell-phone, registered to a civilian businessman. Muchdi denied any knowledge about Priyanto, suggesting someone else might have used his phones. Priyanto also denied knowing Muchdi or Hendropriyono. Hendropriyono, Muchdi and Colonel Irawan all refused to appear before the fact-finding team or answer questions in the case. Accusing them of “character assassination,” Hendropriyono filed a complaint against two team members because he felt they had acted impolitely, while his legal advisor, retired military police Major General Syamsu Djalaluddin, exclaimed dismissively, “Who is this Munir anyway that a presidential regulation had to be issued? A lot of people die but no regulations are made for them.” [5]

BIN intelligence officers apparently had considered other methods to dispatch Munir, including sorcery, according to an internal agency document recovered by the fact-finding team. [6] During Pollycarpus Priyanto’s trial, BIN junior agent M. Padma Anwar recounted a story in which his superiors had discussed plots involving terror, poison and black magic against Munir, even visiting a Javanese mystic to help with the scheme. He admitted seeing Priyanto at BIN offices before Munir’s murder. Anwar conveniently forgot his previous testimony during Major General Muchdi’s trial a year later. [7] BIN Deputy Rear Admiral Bijah Soebijanto, a suspect in the case, was awarded a second star in 2005 and transferred to the National Resilience Institute (Lemhannas) as Deputy for Evaluation and Development.

Hendropriyono denied any involvement in Munir’s death although all signs pointed to him as someone who held a grudge against the rights crusader. “Most people still feel it was an act of malice, directed at a man who had carried out an unrelenting campaign against the military and its record of human rights abuses. Suspicions that Mr. Hendropriyono himself may have played a part of the murder plot have been circulating for years. His response has always been to confront the allegations head-on. After all, the evidence against him simply is not there.” [8] With assistance from fellow activists in Indonesia and abroad, Munir’s widow Suciwati waged a dedicated campaign for justice. She spoke with the foreign media and lobbied the European Union and the U.S. Congress to pressure Indonesian officials to transparently investigate the case and prosecute those responsible.

Pollycarpus Priyanto’s trial started in August 2007. BIN officer Budi Santoso testified he gave Pollycarpus 10 million rupiah (a little over $1,000) on June 14, 2004 on Major General Muchdi’s orders and another 3-4 million rupiah while Pollycarpus was being investigated in connection with the murder. In January 2008, the Supreme Court sentenced Priyanto to twenty years in prison. The following month, the Central Jakarta District Court convicted former Garuda President Director Indra Setiawan and sentenced him to one year imprisonment in the case. The court faulted Setiawan for failing to clarify Pollycarpus Priyanto’s assignment as a security officer on the flight since he knew it was an intelligence operation. The panel of judges also deemed Setiawan had been the victim of the conspiracy. He had been in police custody for ten months and was released for time served.

Major General Muchdi was charged in July 2008. His trial began in August. Prosecutors sought a fifteen-year prison term. Three BIN employees and three recruited informants recanted earlier testimony against the general or simply refused to appear before the court. Muchdi claimed he was a “victim” of foreign intervention. In October, judges in the South Jakarta District Court acquitted him on insufficient evidence. The judges were faulted for not probing the retractions and insisting that all witnesses appear in court. Hendropriyono and top BIN officials were not summoned. The National Human Rights Commission (Komnas-HAM) pledged to review the court proceedings to look for improper political interference, [9] but no further action was taken against Muchdi; he joined fellow red beret Prabowo Subianto’s Greater Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) political party.

A classified cable from U.S. Embassy Jakarta dated July 28, 2006, later released in the Wikileaks scandal, revealed that National Police Chief General Sutanto had confided to Ambassador Lynn Pascoe his certainty BIN had been involved in Munir’s death. [10] Former Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono characterized Munir’s murder was a badly botched intelligence operation. [11] Another senior officer suggested the murder scheme was too complex. It would have been far easier to have the activist picked up and disappeared. “Munir’s murder illustrates the continued attitude of impunity, the perception that the government can still eliminate minor irritations like swatting mosquitoes as it did during the New Order.” [12]

The failure to obtain any high-level convictions in the Munir case put the President in a difficult spot between pressing for justice and broad institutional resistance. Amnesty International and at least a dozen foreign governments, including the U.S., pressed Yudhoyono to reopen the case with a new and independent investigation. The police revived their investigation in 2010 after receiving information Pollycarpus Priyanto and Ambonese singer Raymond “Ongen” Latuihamalo had met Munir at a coffee shop in Singapore Changgi Airport and possibly poisoned his drink there before his flight. Based on the large amount of poison found in Munir’s system, some speculated he might have been poisoned twice, in the coffee shop and after he boarded the flight. The fifty-six-year old Latuihamalo died from an apparent heart attack in May 2012 before the case was resolved. An autopsy found no evidence of foul play. [13] In October 2013, the Supreme Court reduced Polycarpus Priyanto’s twenty-year prison sentence to fourteen years.

[1] Ian Wilson, The Changing Contours of Organized Violence in Post New Order Indonesia (Perth: Murdoch University Working Paper Number 118, February 2005), p. 15. Fadloli el-Muhir had an estimated 10,000 Betawi Brotherhood followers in the Jakarta metropolitan area. Representing native Betawi (derived from “Batavia” denoting native Jakartan) community interests, the FBR established its own command posts under the government Environmental Security System (Siskamling) and regularly clashed with ethnic gangs to control the lucrative city parking and protection rackets. Fadloli el-Muhir had ties to Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso. His thugs had participated in the July 27, 1996 assault on PDI headquarters while Sutiyoso was Jakarta Commander. FBR members had joined General Wiranto’s Pam Swakarsa volunteer security force in late-1998.

[2] “Monitoring the Trial Concerning the Murder of Munir,” Kontras, November 11, 2005.

[3] John McBeth, “Activist’s Widow Presses on for Justice,” The Straits Times, July 26, 2008.

[4] “Intelligence Agency Implicated in Munir’s Murder,” Tapol Bulletin 179, July 2005.

[5] Cited in Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Dian Kuswandini, “Witness ‘Forgets’ Previous Claims in Munir Case,” The Jakarta Post, October 10, 2008.

[8] McBeth, “Activist’s Widow Presses on for Justice.”

[9] Dian Kuswandini, “Rights Body to Examine Muchdi Verdict,” The Jakarta Post, January 3, 2009.

[10] “Wikileaks Soal Munir: Sutanto Yakin BIN Terlibat,” Detiknews.com, September 8, 2011.

[11] Interview with Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono at his Defense Ministry office in Jakarta, October 18, 2009.

[12] Confidential interview, November 4, 2009.

[13] Rabby Pramudatama, “Munir Family in New Push to Resolve Murder,” The Jakarta Post, December 3, 2012.

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