YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Conviction in activist's death

The Indonesian rights figure was poisoned during an airline flight.

January 26, 2008|Paul Watson | Times Staff Writer

JAKARTA, INDONESIA — Indonesia's Supreme Court convicted a former Garuda airlines pilot of the 2004 murder of human rights leader Munir Said Thalib on Friday, more than a year after acquitting the same defendant amid allegations of a coverup.

The court sentenced Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, who was an off-duty pilot aboard the state-run airline flight on which Munir was poisoned, to 20 years in prison.

In October 2006, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court's conviction and acquitted Pollycarpus of Munir's slaying. Human rights groups and others accused authorities of trying to hide a broader conspiracy to kill Munir, 38, a prominent critic of Indonesia's military.

After the new verdict, Munir's widow, Suciwati Munir, said she thought Pollycarpus should have received a life sentence, adding that it was more important to her that authorities seek to prosecute the intelligence officials suspected of orchestrating the killing.

"Pollycarpus is not alone here," she said in an interview, adding, "this ruling is part of the politics" surrounding her husband's death.

The country's National Intelligence Agency has been suspected of masterminding the killing. Munir was slipped a lethal dose of arsenic Sept. 7, 2004, while traveling from Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, to Amsterdam, with a stopover in Singapore.

Munir, a father of two, was on his way to study international humanitarian law on a one-year scholarship.

A few days after Munir's death, his widow received a package containing the head, leg and some other elements of a chicken and a note that warned her not to link the military to her husband's death "if you do not want to end up like him!"

Under foreign and domestic pressure, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a former army general, ordered the case reopened after the Supreme Court ruled that there wasn't sufficient evidence to convict Pollycarpus.

At the first trial, the prosecution alleged that Pollycarpus had slipped arsenic into juice that a flight attendant served to Munir on the short trip from Jakarta to Singapore. But in April, the national police chief announced that investigators had found new evidence that Munir was poisoned while waiting for his connection in Singapore, and not on the flight as earlier suspected.

Police then charged additional suspects: Indra Setiawan, the ex-director of Garuda Airways, and Rohainil Aini, secretary to the airline's chief pilot, both of whom allegedly helped Pollycarpus by falsifying documents. On Jan. 15, a statement from an intelligence officer read in court said Pollycarpus had asked the National Intelligence Agency to write a letter recommending him for a security assignment with Garuda before Munir was killed.

In his January statement, intelligence agent Budi Santoso said Pollycarpus was one of a network of people working for the intelligence agency.

The agency director's assistant, Muchdi Purwo Prandjono, knew Pollycarpus and made several payments to him before and after the killing, the written testimony said.

The intelligence agent said that a letter he helped Pollycarpus draft was addressed to the airline's president and asked that he assign the off-duty pilot to security detail on the flight Munir also boarded. There was a blank space on the draft for Muchdi's signature, Budi said.

Muchdi has denied any involvement in Munir's death. Following Budi's testimony, police said they would only consider charges against Muchdi once the current Munir murder trials are complete.


Los Angeles Times Articles