INDONESIA: Verdict in the murder case of Munir — the courts mock justice

The Indonesia Supreme Court quashed a judgment by the Court of Appeal which affirmed the 14 year jail sentence pronounced by the Central Jakarta District Court last December against Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto for the murder of the well known human rights campaigner Munir.

The Supreme Court in a two-to-one judgment reduced the charge against the accused to that of only falsifying documents and sentenced him to two years.  In a dissenting judgment one judge held that the charges of the connection of the accused with the murder of Munir on board a Garuda flight from Jakarta to Amsterdam has been proved and that he agreed with the prosecutors demand for a life sentence.

Munir had become a national legend due to his long years of struggle against the dictatorship of Suharto and against corruption in the country.  He died on board the flight on his way to Amsterdam for studies and a Dutch autopsy found a lethal dose of arsenic in his body.  It is widely believed that high ranking persons in the intelligence services who had been exposed by Munir’s campaigns had masterminded this murder.

The news of the murder led to enormous reactions in Indonesia and the incumbent president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who was then campaigning for the presidency, promised inquiries into the murder.  Later while as president he repeated his promises and according to Munir’s widow, Suciwati, the president said that the Munir case was to be a “test case for the nation.”  A Commission was appointed to collect further evidence on the matter but the report of the inquiry which has been submitted to the president has never been published, though the terms of reference of the commission required such publication.  Human rights groups say that the report showed evidence to the effect that Munir’s death was the result of a conspiracy and that the report named a number of persons from among Garuda executives and intelligence officials who should be investigated.  There is now an outcry once again after this last decision that the inquiries should be reopened and that the conspirators and the actual perpetrators of the murder should be brought to justice together with the accused, Pollycarpus.  It is very unlikely that the Supreme Court judgement will be able to put an end to this massive campaign on the part of many sectors of Indonesian society.

Both the initial judgement of the Central Jakarta District Court, affirmed by the Court of Appeal and the majority judgment of the Supreme Court are problematic.  The initial judgment tries to make out that Pollycarpus himself administered the poison to the glass of orange juice that was given to Munir on board the Garuda flight.  However, the case against Pollycarpus has been that he was acting on behalf of a number of conspirators who wanted Munir dead and that he had only ensured that Munir was on the flight and that further, the poison was administered to Munir by the stewards.  The District Court judgment put the entire blame only on Pollycarpus thereby exonerating the alleged conspirators in the intelligence services, and in the administration of Garuda Airlines.  The District Court judgment only served as an inadequate answer to the public outcry both within Indonesia and outside regarding this murder, in itself it was not the exercise of an authentic judicial process but mostly a cover up.

Now the Supreme Court has completed the process of the cover up by even releasing Pollycarpus on the basis that there is no direct evidence of him administering the poisonous drink.  The Supreme Court instead sentenced him to two years for altering documents to be in the plane in which the murder took place.  However, the Supreme Court does not draw the necessary conclusions of Pollycarpus’ involvement in a conspiracy to murder and playing a direct role in ensuring that the poison was in fact administered.  The two year sentence for altering documents in itself does not make any sense.  It only demonstrates that the court wants to make it appear that some form of punishment was given to Pollycarpus and that some justice was done in Munir’s case.

The conduct of the District Court later affirmed by the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court draws enormous doubts on the credibility and authenticity of the judicial process in Indonesia.  The exercise of sentencing and reducing sentences seems to be very much of a political gamble in dealing with public outrage than the genuine exercise of a judicial process in a serious case of murder on board a national airline through an act of poisoning.  A genuine judicial inquiry would have involved the examination of the conspiracy to murder, the actual plan of murder and the actual execution of the murder.  Having the common ground that Pollycarpus was an integral part of a larger scheme, the courts should have demanded an investigation into the entire incident and not allowed anyone to make an external gesture of a case to get away with the state’s responsibility to prosecute such a case.

The outcome of the present verdict will be a cynical disrespect for the judicial process itself and the lowering of the expectation for justice in Indonesia.  The very reform process that President Yudhoyono speaks about will be greatly undermined in these circumstances.

The court judgment places the president in an extremely embarrassing situation.  His promise for making this a test case in Indonesia has now failed.  The public will ask what happened to the commission that the president instigated and who had submitted its report.  Why has the president not published this report?  Is the president unwilling to proceed to a thorough inquiry on the basis of the recommendations made to him and if so, why?  Are there very powerful elements that can obstruct even the president’s undertakings on these matters?  Such questions will not go away until a satisfactory enquiry is done into this case and a credible judicial process satisfies the people.

Munir, who fought for justice for others and to improve the justice system in all its aspects in Indonesia, will remain to haunt all the aspects of the system of justice in the country for a long time to come.  This case is not about just one murder.  It is in fact about the justice system in Indonesia and the future of political and other reforms in the country.


Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-237-2006
Countries : Indonesia,
Issues : Extrajudicial killings,