Subject: JP: Forget the Nobel, remember Munir

Jakarta Post

Editorial October 07, 2006

Forget the Nobel, remember Munir

Debate about human rights in this country seems to be too often all sound and fury that signifies nothing. Our politicians posture and make the right noises in international forums, often to applause, while at home activists work tirelessly to campaign for these rights. And sometimes they are murdered on the job.

Despite all their work and all the rhetoric, human rights seem difficult to uphold here. Or perhaps there was no political will to do so in the first place.

The Supreme Court's exoneration of former Garuda pilot Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto from charges in a plot to murder rights activist Munir Said bin Thalib in September 2004 provides another example of the poor protection of human rights here.

Pollycarpus' escape from the premeditated murder charges reminds us of the high-profile trials of Army officers and civilian leaders accused of involvement in crimes against humanity in East Timor in 1999 and Tanjung Priok in 1984.

Those trials ran on an identical script. Some of the defendants were found guilty in the lower court, to the cheers of human rights activists. But it was the defendants who had the last laugh as they finally were acquitted in the appeal court due to a "lack of evidence". Their exoneration was only a matter of time.

Pollycarpus will serve his jail term for another five months for falsifying assignment documents, which enabled him to board a Garuda airplane where Munir was later found murdered. Pollycarpus will be a free man in March, or sooner if he receives a sentence remission.

The trial of Pollycarpus had sparked controversy since the day he was named the sole defendant in the case. The government-sanctioned fact-finding team formed to help the police probe the case had recommended a formal investigation into several officials at the National Intelligence Agency (BIN), including Muchdi Purwopranjono. In his much-awaited testimony in court, the BIN's former deputy chief denied involvement.

When convicting Pollycarpus last December, the Central Jakarta District Court judges recommended a further investigation into the case after finding that the convict had made repeated calls to Muchdi's mobile phone. The order fell on deaf ears.

Many believe Pollycarpus was made a scapegoat to protect certain individuals or parties who masterminded the murder of Munir. Pollycarpus personifies the silence of the lamb as until the Supreme Court reduced his 14 years jail term to only two years, he has never revealed the brains behind the murder.

Despite this, at more than one point before and during the trial his lawyer did threaten to do so; saying Pollycarpus knew more about the murder than he would let on, a tacit admission of involvement that the Supreme Court judges did not seem to consider worthwhile evidence.

Now the probe into Munir's murder has to start from square one. National Police Chief Gen. Sutanto said the success of the renewed investigation into Munir's death would depend on Pollycarpus' cooperation. But why should the former pilot help the police no that he has been declared not guilty in the case?

It is more imperative for the police to follow the recommendation from the fact-finding team, which suggested an investigation into several former BIN officials.

Foreign pressures have mounted on the government to be serious in investigating the case as implied by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono during his visit to Europe last month.

It is only political will, and not rhetoric, that will see the unraveling of the facts behind Munir's murder. The lack of "solid evidence" to convince the Supreme Court to uphold the lower courts' verdict could be the responsibility of the law enforcers.

The country should forget about collecting the country's second Nobel Peace Prize -- the acquittal of Pollycarpus in the Munir case speaks volumes about a major setback in the country's efforts to respect human rights.

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