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Dark Clouds over the Munir Case

THE murder case of human rights activist Munir ended up obscure. Everything returns to zero. Months were spent on a probe into the ruthless murder of the 39-year-old human rights advocate by poisoning, but now the case is further engulfed in mystery. An appeal decision of the Supreme Court on Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, a Garuda pilot, was the cause. Polly was sentenced to 14 years in prison by a district court, which was sustained by the high court. Polly was found guilty of involvement in the premeditated murder of Munir on September 7, 2004, aboard a Garuda airliner flying the Jakarta-Singapore-Amsterdam route.


On Tuesday last week, the judicial appeal panel chaired by Iskandar Kamil declared that Polly was not the perpetrator of Munir’s murder. He was only guilty of falsifying a letter of travel assignment. This wrongdoing, according to the panel, was far less severe than killing a man. Therefore, the punishment for Polly was slashed from 14 years to only two years in jail.

But it was not a unanimous decision. Justice Artidjo Alkostar, one of the three members of the panel, disagreed with his two colleagues, Iskandar and Atja Sondjaja. Artidjo applied the a posteriori principle—analyzing known effects to deduce possible causes. Based on the series of facts in the last journey of Munir, Artidjo was convinced that Polly had been involved. “There was a succession of peculiar acts by the former Garuda pilot before the death of Munir,” he told Tempo (see interview with Artidjo).

Still, Artidjo lost his vote. Within six months, Polly will be free. Polly’s attorney, M. Assegaf, even planned to request that the confinement of his client, now occupying detention room C-3 at the National Police HQ, should be suspended. “It’s because he has served three quarters of his term,” said Assegaf.

The appeal decision constitutes a ticket for Pollycarpus to lead a life of full freedom. At least in the case of Munir he must never be brought to trial again. “On the basis of the criminal code principle of ne bis in idem, Polly cannot be prosecuted for the second time in the same case,” said Harkristuti Harkrisnowo, an expert on criminal law from the University of Indonesia.

In the Criminal Code, the principle of ne bis in idem is stipulated in Article 76. “So, for Polly, the case is now virtually over,” added Harkristuti. According to her, even the presence of novum or new evidence will not take him to court. “Such evidence cannot eliminate ne bis in idem,” she pointed out.

Suciwati, Munir’s wife, was obviously disappointed. “This further shows the confusion of our law, which is not on the side of the weak,” she said. The mother of two is working with a non-governmental organization. Suci was sure that Polly was only a pawn in her husband’s murder. Consequently, though the court of the first level and the high court punished Polly, Suci kept demanding that the mastermind of her spouse’s killer should be captured.

With this appeal decision, the government attempt to revitalize the Munir case investigating team has triggered the pessimism of many circles. While the fact-finding team of the Munir case failed to do much until its dissolution, the new team is expected to have the same fate. Pro-human rights groups believe that Munir’s killing involved powerful men. “The commitment and serious attitude of the President will be useful to uncover this case,” said Asmara Nababan, deputy head of the fact-finding team.

According to Asmara, his team once requested the President to audit investigators from the police for their less than optimal performance. Asmara cited Polly’s phone contact with a high-ranking State Intelligence Agency (BIN) official as an example. “The phone number of the one in touch with Pollycarpus was never seriously traced,” he noted. Asmara also regretted the President’s lack of prompt response to the team’s recommendations. One of them concerned the team’s failure to reach maximum capacity due to BIN’s limitation. “If the President approved this recommendation, the head of BIN should have been replaced,” he added.

National Police Chief, Gen. Sutanto, apparently wanted to avoid any public impression of low working morale among his personnel. On Friday, Sutanto announced the dissolution of the former team led by Brig. Gen. Marsudhi Hanafiah and formed a new team under Brig. Gen. Suryadharma to investigate Munir’s case. “This team will search for new evidence,” said Sutanto.

Asmara coolly responded to the changed team. “It’s only lip service,” he remarked. The ex-secretary-general of the National Human Rights Commission was not convinced that Suryadharma’s team would uncover Munir’s killer. “The police are facing a big power,” he said. In Asmara’s view, the President is the only one who can unveil the mystery of Munir’s demise. “This case indeed depends on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono,” he concluded.

LRB/Maria Hasugian, Abdul Manan

Tempo Magazine, No. 06/VII/Oct 10 - 16, 2006 

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