Wife of killed Indonesian activist vows not to quit

Suciwati, 50, wants suspected masterminds unmasked as she keeps fighting to raise awareness of past abuses
Wife of killed Indonesian activist vows not to quit

Suciwati (center) and victims of abuse cases hold up images of Suciwati's husband, Munir Said Thalib, a human rights activist who was murdered 14 years ago, during a peaceful protest near the Presidential Palace in Jakarta on Sept. 6. (Photo by Konradus Epa/ucanews.com)

The wife of a murdered human rights activist is still seeking justice in Indonesia 14 years after her husband was poisoned in Amsterdam and a former pilot, believed to be a scapegoat, sentenced for the crime.

"I won't stop fighting," Suciwati told ucanews.com.

"I'll continue to seek justice for what happened to my husband," added the 50 year old, who also serves as chairwoman of the Victims Solidarity Network for Justice (JSKK) group.

Tito Karnavian, Indonesia's chief of police, officially reopened the case last month and said on Sept. 3 that he had instructed criminal investigators to speed up their work on the new probe amid rumors of missing evidence.

However, Suciwati expressed frustration at the government's slow handling of the case. She said she has been travelling overseas in a bid to seek help from the United Nations and enlist the support of international NGOs.

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She left her home in Malang, East Java, on Sept. 6 to join other activists in Jakarta as they held a peaceful protest across from the Presidential Palace to commemorate the date on which her husband died and draw attention to past human rights abuses, especially cases that have never been solved.

Munir Said Thalib, a renowned human rights activist, died two hours after landing at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam on Sept. 7, 2004.

A former Garuda Indonesia pilot, Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, was convicted at Central Jakarta District Court of using arsenic to kill him and was sentenced to 14 years in jail that same year. He was released this August.

However, Suciwati and other activists believe Pollycarpus was just a patsy and that a powerful actor or mastermind was responsible for Munir's death.

Munir was known as an active campaigner who fought against the kidnapping of students in 1998, among other human rights violations in Indonesia.

Suciwati, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, started a small business in Malang, known for its colonial architecture, to sell snacks, souvenirs and books to support her sons, Alief Allende and Diva Suukyi.

"I always ask them to try to forgive the people who killed their father, and I encourage them to fight to always stay on the right path in life," she said.

In honor of her husband's activism, she founded the Omah Munir Museum in 2013 in Malang as a means to educate the younger generation about the importance of campaigning to respect people's basic human rights.

Suciwati has helped keep together the human rights groups her late husband founded. She also set up a museum to raise awareness of past rights abuses. (Photo by Konradus Epa/ucanews.com)

 

"It serves as a reminder because many Indonesians tend to forget the sacrifices that activists have made for our country," she said.

During his life, Munir established several human rights organizations including KontraS (Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence) and Imparsial (Indonesian Human Rights Monitor).

Suciwati has continued her husband's legacy by keeping these groups alive in cooperation with other activists and victims of past tragedies, including cases of military brutality in 1998 and an anti-communist purge of 1965-66.

Maria Katarina Sumarsih, a Catholic whose son was killed during the protests seeking an end to Suharto's regime in 1998, praised Suciwati's unceasing fight against injustice. "She is a brave woman who is not only struggling for her husband but also for all the victims of human rights violations," she told ucanews.com.

Bedjo Untung, who suffered during the purge that occurred 60 years ago, described Suciwati as a role model in terms of her resilience and refusal to give up. 

KontraS chairwoman Yati Andriany said the group fully supported the decision by the chief of police to reopen Munir's case after Pollycarpus ended his jail term.

She said some of the information that came to light in court indicated the murder was part of a conspiracy. "It needs to be investigated further so we can find out who else was involved," she said.

Amnesty International Indonesia director Usman Hamid said he believes those who were pulling the strings have not been brought to court.

He said Munir was possibly killed by intelligence operatives, who would have considered him a huge thorn in their side due to his advocacy on behalf of students who went missing in 1998 during the anti-Suharto protests. "I'm sure that in Munir's murder case Pollycarpus wasn't working alone," he said.

Pollycarpus has repeatedly tried to convince the media of his innocence, stressing there was no real evidence of his involvement at what he suggests was just a show trial that led to his incarceration.

Suciwati said she now hopes President Joko Widodo and the police follow a report released by the Fact Finding Team (TPF) on Munir's case. Former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono set up the agency in 2004.

The report has mentioned the involvement of certain people but the legal process to finally resolve what happened has been hampered by political circumstances. The report was never released to the public but was submitted to Yudhoyono in June 2005.

Choirul Anam, who works for the National Human Rights Commission, said he also supported the move by the police to reopen the investigation. "It's important to follow up on the names [mentioned] in the document by the TPF," he said.

Catholic lawyer Petrus Seletinus said the probe is important as it could end up unmasking the real killers and show that no one is above the law. "The case will remain shrouded in darkness until the involvement of certain people is revealed," he said.

Andreas Harsono, an Indonesian researcher for Human Rights Watch, said he hoped the police "have the courage and independence to reveal the truth about Munir's murder."

Yet no one is expecting it to be an easy ride.

Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo recently announced that the original document in the TPF report has now gone missing.

The document concludes that Munir's death was caused by a high-level conspiracy that involves some individuals within Garuda Indonesia and the Indonesian Intelligence Agency (BIN).

It is not known when the document went missing but the first media report about it was in 2016.

Suciwati said 14 documents related to the case have also mysteriously disappeared, which she claims supports the conspiracy theory as it appears as though important evidence has been deliberately erased.

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