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Jakarta Post

Expecting miracle in Munir murder investigation

  • Imanuddin Razak

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, November 1, 2016   /  03:57 pm
Expecting miracle in Munir murder investigation In the darkness – A visitor wears a Munir mask during a public information openness dispute trial on the murder of the human rights defender 12 years ago at the Central Information Commission (KIP) in Jakarta on Oct.10. (Antara/Akbar Nugroho Gumay)

The nation has refreshed calls for a resolution to the murder of prominent human rights activist Munir Said Thalib aboard a Garuda Indonesia flight in September 2004, sadly without knowing who the perpetrator is, let alone the motive. 

Three different presidents have ruled the country since then, yet the investigation into the assassination has led justice seekers in a direction they never expected.

A fact-finding team (TPF) mandated by then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2005 only paved the way for the conviction of former Garuda pilot Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto and former Garuda president director Indra Setiawan. They were sentenced to 20 and 15 years’ imprisonment, respectively, for abetting the murder. 

The investigation could not uncover the mastermind of the murder. Former State Intelligence Agency (BIN) deputy chief Muchdi Purwoprandjono, who was named in a report filed by the team, was also brought to justice but was later acquitted.

Due to the poor results of the prosecution, there have been increasing calls lately for a new investigation, with all names mentioned in the report from the Yudhoyono government-sanctioned TPF to be investigated, including former BIN chief AM Hendropriyono. Former TPF members have said his name was mentioned among those who were allegedly responsible for poisoning Munir with arsenic on his way to the Netherlands on a Garuda flight. Hendropriyono has repeatedly denied any role in Munir’s death.

Such calls for a fresh investigation have gained momentum especially after the Central Information Commission (KIP) issued a ruling on Oct. 10 this year that the investigation report authored by the TPF and submitted to Yudhoyono’s administration in 2005 was public information and therefore should be disclosed immediately. 

In reaction to the commission’s ruling, activists have demanded that the findings of the investigation into the 2004 murder serve as a way for President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to honor his commitment to resolving past human rights abuses. They say publishing the report authored by a government-commissioned fact-finding team would prove that Jokowi’s recent pledge to resolve gross human rights abuses was not mere lip service.

The firm ruling of the KIP, however, has led to more uncertainty as both the past administration of Yudhoyono and the current Jokowi administration have traded blame regarding the missing original copies of the 2005 TPF report. The State Secretariat has claimed it has no knowledge of the report’s whereabouts and therefore was unable to follow up on the case. Meanwhile, Yudhoyono said on Tuesday that five original copies of the TPF report were distributed to five institutions after he received them from the TPF in 2005. 

Hendardi, a human rights activist and member of the TPF, however, said Yudhoyono received six copies from the commission, five of which were handed over to the National Police, the Attorney General’s Office, BIN, the Law and Human Rights Ministry and the State Secretariat.

In view of the uncertainty on the whereabouts of the original TPF report, which has largely been assumed to be the sole legal channel needed to follow up on its recommendation, the idea of conducting a fresh investigation into the murder case is therefore an essential element to bring about the settlement of past cases of rights violations. 

This country has a bad tradition of neglecting the thorough settlement of state problems or cases, particularly those associated with the basic rights of its people. Worse is the fact that many of those cases have been prolonged with no concrete results along with the passing of their witnesses.

Cases like the Sept. 30, 1965 coup attempt, which was blamed on the now defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and the subsequent pursuit and murder of people who supported or were associated with the PKI, and the 1966 Supersemar, a controversial letter of authorization issued by then president Sukarno for Soeharto, who was the highest military officer in command at the time, to take necessary action to create stability and order in the country in the aftermath of the failed coup, are good examples of how state negligence has led to unanswerable truths in such cases to date.

A thorough investigation into the Munir murder case is expected to set a legal precedent for the settlement of past rights cases, particularly ones in which the majority of the suspects are still alive and could therefore testify for clarification purposes. The Jokowi administration could make a historical landmark and simultaneously respond to doubts on the President’s rights protection commitment, should it be able to embark on a thorough investigation into Munir’s murder.

However, pursuing a thorough investigation into the murder will apparently not be an easy task. In a statement, Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) deputy coordinator Puri Kencana Putri said she was aware of the influence of Hendropriyono in Jokowi’s administration that could affect Jokowi’s commitment to upholding justice over “personal relations”. The former BIN chief is also known to be a close friend of Megawati Soekarnoputri, former president and the chairwoman of Jokowi’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

The thorough settlement of the Munir case is a historical test facing the President. It will serve as a means for him to prove that he does not just talk, but also walks the talk. It will also provide significant momentum to prevent the repetition of such cases in the future.

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