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Indonesia

Indonesian activists seek public support in murder case

Rights groups want the killing of Munir Said Thalib to be treated as a gross human rights violation

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Indonesian activists seek public support in murder case

Suciwati, Munir Said Thalib’s wife, participates in an action opposite the presidential palace in 2018 to mark Thalib's death. Rights activists have called for the case to be considered a gross human rights violation. (Photo: Konradus Epa/UCA News)

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Indonesian rights groups under the Solidarity Action Committee for Munir are seeking public support in their bid to declare the murder of activist Munir Said Thalib a gross human rights violation.

Thalib was killed by arsenic poisoning on a Garuda Indonesia flight from Jakarta to Amsterdam in 2004 on his way to study law and human rights at a Dutch university. 

However, 16 years after his death, the case is still considered just an ordinary crime despite the alleged involvement of people in power at the time.

“We demand that the state immediately recognize Munir’s murder case as a gross human rights violation,” the committee said in a statement to mark the 16th anniversary of his death on Sept. 7.

It said that by doing so the case would be settled through Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights, not an ordinary court.

Thalib was a well-known critic of human rights violations by military security officers in Papua, Aceh and Timor-Leste when it was part of Indonesia. 

Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, a Garuda Indonesia pilot, was found guilty of murdering Thalib in 2008 and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He was released on parole in 2014. 

Besides Priyanto, two other staff of the flag carrier were tried but found not guilty. A former head of the State Intelligence Agency, Muchdi Purwopranjono, was also tried but the former army general was found not guilty. 

The Solidarity Action Committee — including Amnesty International Indonesia, Asia Justice and Rights, Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence, Human Rights Watch and the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation — urged President Joko Widodo to settle the case with a concrete and clear action plan. 

They said Priyanto was just a field executor, while the mastermind of Thalib’s murder remains untouched.  

“It indicates a culture of impunity,” they said. “The state must ensure that violence against human rights defenders is processed rapidly, effectively and impartially.”

On Sept. 7, several delegates of the committee met with the National Human Rights Commission at its office in Jakarta. They urged the commission to immediately decide that Thalib’s case is a gross human rights violation so that the investigation process can be based on the law of a human rights court.

Mohammad Choirul Anam, the commissioner who welcomed the delegation, said he supported the proposal and promised to discuss it with other commissioners.

"[We] need public support so that the case can become gross human rights violence and settled through a human rights court mechanism," Anam said. 

As of now, the government has never published the report of a fact-finding team on Thalib’s murder.

“Munir’s case will become a threat for other human rights defenders in Indonesia if the case isn’t settled,” Usman Hamid, director of Amnesty International Indonesia, told UCA News.

Maria Catharina Sumarsih, whose son was shot dead during an anti-Suharto riot in 1998 in Jakarta — known also as the Semanggi Tragedy — agreed that Thalib's case should be categorized as a gross human rights violation. 

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