Subject: IHT: Criminal case against former general a first in Indonesia

International Herald Tribune

July 10, 2008

Criminal case against former general a first in Indonesia

By Peter Gelling

JAKARTA: For the first time in Indonesia's history, a former high-ranking military official, who also served in the Indonesian intelligence agency, a shadowy relic from the days of authoritarian rule, will face criminal charges.

The police submitted their case against Muchdi Purwoprandjono, a former major general and chief of the intelligence agency's covert operations as recently as 2005, to the attorney general earlier this week.

A.H. Ritonga, a deputy attorney general, said Wednesday that the dossier was nearly complete and that the trial could begin within a month.

Muchdi is accused of orchestrating the killing of Munir Said Thalib, one of Indonesia's most celebrated human rights activists. Munir was poisoned en route from Jakarta to Amsterdam and died aboard a jet belonging to Garuda, the Indonesian state airline, in 2004.

Ritonga said new evidence had been submitted by the police connecting Muchdi to the murder, including a letter to Garuda signed by the former general.

"We are in the process of sorting through the dossier," he said. "When that is complete, arrangements for the trial will begin."

The former general has so far denied all charges.

The arrest of Muchdi, who is being detained in Jakarta, is considered both a major break in the case of Munir's murder and in the ongoing push to overhaul both the military and the intelligence community.

A culture of impunity among officers in the security agencies, which is derived largely from their network of support among Muslim leaders, political parties and business interests, has, up until now, prevented any meaningful investigation into well-documented human rights abuses, according to analysts here.

Nobody, for instance, has gone to trial over the mass killings that followed Suharto's takeover in 1965, or the political kidnappings during his 30-year presidency, or for any of the brutal military campaigns against separatist movements in Aceh, Papua and East Timor.

It was this lack of transparency and accountability that Munir, who was only 38 when he died, built a career fighting against.

"Human rights groups and investigators for a long time were almost powerless," said Usman Hamid, the director of the human rights agency Munir founded and a former member of the presidential fact-finding team that helped investigate Munir's murder. "Even with Munir, we had no support from political leaders or the military. They just refused to cooperate. I couldn't have ever imagined that the arrest of Muchdi would happen," he added.

Progressive, though slow-moving, government improvements, however, have helped investigators in the Munir case. The military has made some strides extricating itself from its vast array of business ventures, for example.

International attention on the Munir case has also forced political leaders to back away from blindly protecting military officials.

It is also an election year that will again see President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono face off against Megawati Sukarnoputri, who was president at the time of Munir's death. Yudhoyono has long been under pressure to make good on promises to solve the Munir case. Several years ago he set up a fact-finding team to expedite the investigation.

Megawati, meanwhile, has spurned her close relationships with the intelligence community by so far keeping quiet about the arrest of Muchdi. A leader of her party even publicly stated recently that the police should investigate the intelligence agency further.

"This is all a signal that intelligence and military impunity has been refused in the case of Munir," Hamid said.

Human rights groups, however, are only cautiously optimistic that Muchdi will be successfully prosecuted, noting the corruption in the Indonesian judicial system. And they are even less optimistic that the police will go after the former chief of the intelligence agency, Abdullah Hendropriyono, the one many think gave the order to murder Munir.

Soeripto, who uses only one name, is a member of Parliament and former intelligence officer who told the Indonesian media that the Munir murder was planned at an internal intelligence agency meeting in 2004. Hendropriyono was director of the intelligence agency at that time.

"The meeting resulted in Munir's elimination," Soeripto told Tempo magazine at the end of June.

Both Muchdi and Hendropriyono are career military officers with close relationships with retired generals.

Muchdi joined the special forces in 1970 and quickly rose through the ranks as a personal friend to its commander at the time, Prabowo Subianto, who is now a presidential candidate. He received three promotions under Prabowo before taking over his command in 1998.

Munir at the time accused Muchdi of allowing, in his role as special forces commander, the establishment of a covert team that in 1998 abducted more than 20 democracy activists. The activists were tortured, and one was killed.

The accusations led to Muchdi's transfer. But no senior officials involved were ever brought to trial. He was then recruited by the intelligence agency and in 2001 put in charge of covert operations under Hendropriyono.

Muchdi was first implicated in the murder during the trial of Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, a Garuda pilot accused of spiking Munir's drink while he was off duty during a stopover at Singapore's international airport. Pollycarpus was sentenced to 20 years. His boss, Indra Setiawan, then the chief executive of Garuda, was sentenced to one year for his involvement.

That trial revealed that Pollycarpus had close ties to the intelligence community, and cellphone records proved he had spoken to Muchdi 35 times. Many of those conversations happened shortly after the news of Munir's death became public, according to court records.

Ritonga, the deputy attorney general, said investigators had collected more evidence against Muchdi, including testimony from a witness within the intelligence agency and a confidential letter signed by Muchdi, ordering the chief executive of Garuda to assign Pollycarpus as a security agent on Munir's flight.

Prosecutors also indicated that other evidence against Hendropriyono would probably come to light during Muchdi's trial but did not give any details.

"I believe that it is not impossible to prosecute Muchdi and Hendropriyono, though it won't be easy," Hamid said.

Back to July menu 

World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu