Subject: 2 updates: Garuda fined for negligence over activist's death

also: Indonesia's Garuda negligent over activist's death

Garuda fined for negligence over activist's death

JAKARTA, May 3 (Reuters) - An Indonesian court has found national carrier Garuda and one of its pilots guilty of negligence in the death of a leading rights campaigner, in a civil case filed by the widow of Munir Thalib.

Thalib, known for his critical views on the military, was poisoned when he was on his way to the Netherlands for postgraduate studies in 2004.

In October, the Supreme Court overturned a guilty verdict on off-duty pilot Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto in the murder case, saying there was not enough evidence and no witness.

The acquittal put pressure on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who had vowed to get to the bottom of the case when he took office in late 2004.

The chief judge hearing the civil case against Garuda and its pilot said on Thursday that the pilot of flight GA 974 failed to take necessary action when Munir was very sick before he died on the way to Amsterdam following a transit at Singapore's Changi airport.

"According to international flight regulations, in the event of an emergency involving a passenger, the pilot must consult a purser or doctor on the ground and if necessary land at the nearest airport," judge Andriani Nurdin said.

The court ordered Garuda and the pilot to pay a fine of 664,029,900 rupiah ($73,180). The lawsuit filed in October had sought $1.4 million.

Garuda's former president director, Indra Setiawan, and another senior airline official have been arrested in connection with the issuing of a fake document that allowed Priyanto to be on board under the pretense of a security assignment.

A district level court had sentenced Priyanto to 14 years' jail in December 2005 and an appellate court upheld the finding he put arsenic in food served to Munir.

However, the Supreme Court ruled there was not enough evidence and no witness to support the case.

Police say they have found new evidence that Munir was poisoned at Singapore's Changi during the transit.

Munir was an outspoken critic of the military and its methods in quashing dissent and separatists in hotspots such as Aceh and Papua provinces.

A Garuda Indonesia pilot himself, Priyanto had said he was on an assignment supervising security on the Jakarta-Singapore leg of Munir's flight. He gave his business-class seat to Munir during that leg.

Human rights groups say the government has not pressed the investigation or Priyanto's possible ties to others hard enough.

Washington has also urged Jakarta not to let the case slide.


Indonesia's Garuda negligent over activist's death

JAKARTA, May 3 (AFP) -- An Indonesian court found national carrier Garuda guilty of negligence Thursday over the death of a leading rights activist on one of its flights, in a case filed by the campaigner's widow.

The court ordered Garuda to pay 73,800 dollars in damages to the widow of activist Munir Said Thalib for failing to take adequate action as he neared death during the 2004 flight from arsenic poisoning.

Garuda has been at the centre of a storm over Munir's murder amid allegations of a cover-up in the original police investigation and links to the nation's powerful intelligence agency BIN.

The verdict disappointed widow Suciwati and rights groups, who filed the civil case on her behalf, seeking 1.4 million dollars in damages and a public apology from the airline.

"The court should have accepted our request for an audit and for Garuda to apologise to the public. But whatever amount they give us can never replace Munir," said Suciwati outside the Jakarta court.

The government has come under intense pressure to act over the case after Garuda pilot Pollycarpus Priyanto, charged with carrying out the poisoning, had his conviction quashed late last year by the Supreme Court.

Police have reopened their investigation and last month arrested two former Garuda executives for allegedly falsifying documents that allowed off-duty Priyanto to travel at the last minute on Munir's flight.

Police have also said they were interviewing fresh witnesses, raising hopes among rights groups that BIN officers will be arrested.

Munir made powerful enemies through his work during and after the rule of dictator Suharto, which ended in 1998, exposing rights abuses including in Papua and East Timor.

On Thursday, judges found Garuda and the pilot in charge of the flight guilty of failing to make an emergency landing after Munir complained of feeling sick, asked crew for painkillers and could not stand unaided.

There was no immediate comment from Garuda.

Munir, poisoned during a stopover in Singapore, died about two hours before the plane landed in Amsterdam.

"When a passenger is very sick, the crew should consult the front officers to decide whether to make an emergency landing," judge Setiyono said.

"The pilot has the authority to take action for the sake of his passengers' welfare," he said.

Chair of the judge panel, Andriani Nurdin, ordered Garuda to pay 664,209,900 rupiah (73,800 dollars) in damages.

But she dismissed allegations against nine other defendants including arrested former Garuda executives Indra Setiawan and Rohainil Aini, several current executives and crew members.

"The court has partially accepted the plaintiff's accusation and found defendant one and nine guilty," she said, referring to the airline and pilot Pantun Matondang.

Suciwati's lawyer welcomed the guilty verdict despite the reduced amount of damages and rejection of a public apology.

"The police should be sensitive and use this decision as evidence for the criminal case. They should investigate whether it was caused by a set-up or incompetence," Asvinawati added.

------------------- Joyo Indonesia News Service

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