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Former top spy freed over activist's murder

Article published on the 2008-12-31 Latest update 2009-01-01 08:51 TU

Activists chant outside the court(Photo: Reuters)

Activists chant outside the court
(Photo: Reuters)

Judges in Indonesia on Wednesday cleared a former deputy spy chief of masterminding the murder of a leading human rights activist, Munir, who was poisoned on a plane journey to the Netherlands in 2004. Rights campaigners say the verdict shows that ten years of reform have not been enough to "break the cycle of impunity".

Judges ruled that Muchdi Purwopranjono, who was the first military official to face trial in the case, "cannot be proved legally and convincingly to have ordered the murder of Munir".

Munir Said Tahlib, who was head of the Kontras missing persons' campaign and took part in the investigation into atrocities in East Timor, died at the age of 38 after being poisoned by arsenic as he flew from Jakarta to Amsterdam via Singapore on the national airline, Garuda.

Former Garuda boss Indra Setiawan and an employee, Pollycarpus Priyanto, were jailed in previous cases, although the former has since been freed after a serving one year.

Prosecutors, who demanded a 15-year-sentence for Purwopranjono, claimed the killing was revenge for Munir's uncovering of the kidnapping of 13 campaigners by the Kopassus special forces under his command in the 1990s.

The general was sacked as special forces chief because of the case.

"This case is full of intimidation against the witnesses and against the prosecutors," says Kontras co-ordinator Usman Hamid, who points out that several witnesses withdrew from the trial.

He adds that ten years of reform since the fall of military ruler Suharto has won democratic advances but not ended impunity for high-placed military and state officials.

"I think the case of  Munir is not about the murder," Usman told RFI. "It’s not only about the need to improve law enforcement, but also to reform our intelligence and national security system as a whole and it is also about the future of Indonesian politics."

Reaction: Kontras co-ordinator Usman Hamid

31/12/2008 by Michel Arsenault

Munir's widow, Suciwati, described the verdict as "painful". but called on Indonesians to "stand united to fight for justice".

"It shows that the bad guys have won... we'll fight on,"  she said.