In a case worthy of a spy novel, the former deputy head of Indonesia’s secret services has been charged with the murder of a prominent human rights activist. If found guilty he could face the death penalty. Indonesian human rights activists hope that the trial will trigger a reform of their country’s intelligence services, and that victims of human rights abuse will finally get the justice they deserve.
Protesters who for years called for justice for Munir will welcome this latest development in the case
Human rights activists had long suspected the retired two-star general Muchdi Purwoprandjono of ordering the murder of Munir Thalib -- a virulent critic of Indonesia’s military.
Now their suspicion might well be confirmed by the courts. If found guilty, the former deputy head of Indonesia’s secret services, faces the death penalty for his crime.
His crime is to have premeditated the murder of prominent human rights activist Munir Thalib. Thalib had exposed 13 kidnappings by the National Intelligence Agency in the late 1990s, when the late dictator Suharto was still in power. His disclosure had led to Muchdi, who was then the commander of the army’s special force, being sacked.
A poisoned revenge
Prosecutors said that Muchdi later took revenge; abusing his powers by ordering an agent, Budi Santosa, to kill the activist. Budi Santosa then made a deal with a Garuda Indonesia pilot to poison Munir during a trip from Jarkarta to the Netherlands.
On Thursday, the pilot, Pollycarpus Priyanto, was sentenced to 20 years in jail for serving Munir an arsenic-laced drink in Singapore, where Munir transited.
Evidence of Muchdi’s involvement in the murder was first revealed at Pollycarpus’ trial.
The prosecutor Cyrus Sinaga told the court about a phone call, which directly implicates Muchdi in the murder: “On September 7th, 2004, after coming back from Singapore, the witness Pollycarpus called Budi Santoso’s cellphone, saying he had got the ‘big fish’. Thus, he had been able to kill Munir in Singapore exactly according to the deal with Muchdi. In the phone call, Budi Santoso asked him if he had already reported to Muchdi and the answer was ‘yes’.”
Muchdi denies the allegations. However, he did turn himself in to the authorities on June 19, since when he has been in custody.
Bringing justice to victims of human rights abuse
This is the first time such a senior intelligence officer has been tried in Indonesia. Observers see it as a positive sign that the current Indonesian government is committed to its promise to bring justice to victims of human rights abuse under the Suharto regime and later.
Human rights activists in Indonesia and abroad have welcomed the news, saying it is a step towards intelligence reform and the setting up of a transparent legal process where crimes do not go unpunished.
Usman Hamid is the executive secretary of the Solidarity Committee for Munir: “This is the first trial so the charge sheet expresses already known facts. We hope that the evidence given by the prosecutor will have more details. We hope this legal process will bring new and strong facts. Legally, the charges this time are good enough. But I think the prosecutor still has classified facts that will be revealed in the next trial.”
For her part, Munir’s widow, Suciwati, said she hoped the trial would also implicate other high-ranking officials that were involved in her husband’s death. She added that she thought a life sentence for the ex-general would be appropriate saying that she did not support capital punishment.
But not everybody welcomed the charges against the former general. About 50 of his supporters rallied outside the court shouting “Long live Indonesia! Munir is a criminal! Army and police officers have been killed by the people! Munir was a criminal. Viva Muchdi. Viva Indonesia. Long live our flag!”