Indonesian rights commission to probe activist’s in-flight murder 18 years ago

Pizaro Gozali Idrus and Dandy Koswaraputra
Indonesian rights commission to probe activist’s in-flight murder 18 years ago Human rights activists stage a protest outside the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) demanding justice for murdered right activist Munir Said Thalib in Jakarta, Sept. 7, 2022.
[Anton Raharjo/BenarNews]

Indonesia’s human rights commission will set up a team to investigate a prominent human rights activist’s fatal poisoning aboard an international flight 18 years ago, it said on Wednesday, in yet another attempt to resolve the politically charged murder case.

Munir Said Talib died of arsenic poisoning at age 38 while traveling to the Netherlands from Jakarta on a Garuda Indonesia flight in September 2004.

“We have formed an ad hoc team [to investigate] the murder of Munir Said Talib by appointing two commissioners to represent Komnas HAM,” said Ahmad Taufan Damanik, chairman of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) , adding that the decision to form the team was made on Wednesday, the anniversary of the killing.

A court had found an off-duty Garuda airways pilot guilty of lacing Munir’s drink with the poison, an act which was commissioned by high-ranking Indonesian intelligence officials, according to activists.

Further, a report submitted to the then-president in 2005 was never disclosed to the public, but rights activists said it implicated senior Indonesian intelligence officials in Munir’s murder.

Taufan said the Komnas HAM team would include Usman Hamid, the director of Amnesty International in Indonesia, and two other people whose names were not revealed because they had not yet agreed to join.

Any findings will be presented at a Komnas HAM plenary session, he said.

“We don’t know when the work will be finished,” Taufan said.

The commission is said to be an independent body. Its members are picked by the parliament, after being nominated by a committee, whose members are, in turn, appointed by the president.

On Sept. 7, 2004, Munir died aboard the Garuda flight to Amsterdam where he was to start post-graduate study. An autopsy by Dutch authorities concluded that he had ingested a lethal dose of arsenic.

After assuming the presidency in October that year, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered an independent investigation and set up a fact-finding team, which included human rights activists.

A former senior official at the National Intelligence Agency, Muchdi Purwoprandjono, was tried in 2008 on charges of ordering the killing, but was acquitted after judges said he had no motive.

In September 2016, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo pledged to resolve the Munir case.

A month later, the Public Information Commission ruled that the 2005 report should be made public at the request of Munir’s widow, but a state administrative court overturned the commission’s decision on the grounds that the Jokowi administration had not received the report from the previous government and did not have the document.

That same year, Yudhoyono’s former state secretary, Sudi Silalahi, said the former president had a copy of the document but suggested that a new investigative team with a stronger mandate be formed to follow up on the findings.

‘Will continue to demand justice’

Mohammad Mahfud MD, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, said Jokowi’s government did not object to the Komnas HAM’s move to set up an investigative team.

“Well, go ahead if Komnas HAM wants to,” he told BenarNews. He declined to comment further.

Nasir Djamil, a lawmaker with the opposition, said he hoped the team could get to the bottom of the case.

“I hope the team doesn’t have to work from scratch because the findings are already there,” Nasir told BenarNews.

Rivanlee Anandar, deputy head of the KontraS human rights group, expressed hope that the investigation would lead to prosecution.

“We also urge the government to support the reopening of the Munir case,” Rivanlee told BenarNews.

Munir’s widow, Suciwati, suggested that the formation of the team at the end of the current board members’ term was an attempt to be seen as doing something.

“If they believed that this is a gross human rights violation, an ad hoc team should have been formed from the start [of this commission’s term], but this is at the end of their term of office,” Suciwati told BenarNews.

“We will continue to demand justice, no matter how long it takes.”

Nazarudin Latif in Jakarta contributed to this report.


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