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INDONESIA: Regional NGOs question latest court decision on Munir’s death

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munir_4th_anniversary.jpgRegional NGOs have raised concerns about the recent court decision on the alleged murder of human rights activists Munir Said Thalib in 2004. This statement was released by FORUm-ASIA on 1 January 2009.

The verdict released on 31 December 2008, during the trial of a senior intelligence official initially charged with the alleged murder, cast serious doubts on the independence of the Indonesian judicial system, said FORUM-ASIA in a press statement issued on 1 January 2009.

Retired Major General Muchdi Purwopranjono, former deputy chief of the National Intelligent Agency (known as Badan Inteligen Negara) and the former head of the army's special force units or Kopassus, was discharged by the Court from a 15-year jail term for the charge of premeditated murder.

"The accused is found legally and convincingly not guilty of premeditated murder… and is freed from all charges," chief judge Suharto said in the South Jakarta district court, according to media reports.
Munir was poisoned with arsenic, leading to his death on an Indonesian commercial airliner, Garuda, on his way to Netherlands in September 2004.

Two men have been convicted in connection with the killing – the off-duty pilot Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto and the former Director of Garuda airlines, Indra Setiawan.
Further investigation based on evidence given by Pollycarpus uncovered proofs, which included telephone records and sworn documents by Muchdi, linking the murder to the National Intelligent Agency.

Muchdi was arrested in June and the trial began in August 2008.
The trial of Muchdi is the first case related to the planning and execution of crime involving Indonesian military forces. Since the fall of Soeharto in 1998, no Indonesian general has yet been successfully prosecuted for human rights abuses.
"We are very disappointed with the court decision yesterday.

The judiciary of Indonesia has once again failed to hold the members of armed forces and intelligent services accountable for their gross human rights violations during Soeharto's era", said Yap Swee Seng, FORUM-ASIA's Acting Executive Director.

FORUM-ASIA and its members who closely monitored the case since the trials begun, questioned the court decision that found Muchdi not guilty despite numerous witness statements and evidences pointing to his involvement as the main motivator for Munir's murder.

Based on their monitoring, FORUM-ASIA members concluded that:

1. The court process had been heavily compromised by possible intimidation against and bribe of witnesses. Several witnesses, among whom are members of the Intelligentsia, withdrew their statements as a result of the alleged threats. Some casually contradicted their original statements to the police, others failed to appear in court. Regrettably, the judges did not probe into the changes of attitude of the witnesses.

2. The cross examination of evidences were conducted in a fragmented manner and failed to establish relationships among the parties involved, despite 22 hearing sessions since 30 August 2008. This raises doubts as to whether judges involved in the case have been "compromised" to deny any critical relationship between those who may have had a similar motive to murder Munir.

However, "judges had intentionally taken a side and only consider certain facts for the verdict" stated the Solidarity Action Committee for Munir (KASUM) in its press release on January 1.
"This trial process reveals the urgent need for the reform of the intelligent bodies, the appraisal of corruption, the independence of judiciary and the witness protection program", add Yap.

Meanwhile, activists have accused Muchdi of being allegedly involved in serious human rights abuses, including the "disappearance" of students calling for the ouster of Soeharto in 1998, when he was the head of Kopassus.

Munir led an investigation into the abduction cases when he was the chairperson of Kontras. Based on the investigation report, the military court found Kopassus soldiers guilty of abducting activists – 13 of whom have never been found – which led to the end of Muchdi's military career in 1998.

Munir Said bin Thalib, was the founder and director of Kontras, chief of field operations of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) and director of Imparsial at the time of his death. His work covered the full range of human rights concerns in Indonesia – from abuses by the Indonesian military and police to assaults on labor activists, lack of accountability for human rights crimes in Aceh, Timor Leste and Papua to the rights of Indonesia's ethnic Chinese minority.