Watch Indonesia! calls for a transparent and thorough investigation of the murder of Munir

Press Release

15 November 2004

photo: Monika Schlicher

Our friend and colleague Munir, possibly the best known Indonesian human rights defender, was poisoned. He died under great pain and distress on an airplane on his way from Jakarta to Amsterdam. Two months after his death, we are once more deeply shocked, this time due to the certainty concerning the cause of his death.
Speculations that Munir died from unnatural causes had been circulating from the start. But despite our knowledge of previous attacks on Munir’s life we could not and did not want to think the unthinkable. It was Munir, among others, who told us once and again how popular conspiracy theories were in Indonesia and how destructive an effect they could have. It is thus even more difficult to come to terms with the fact that the autopsy report has confirmed the speculations about the cause of his death. As long as the criminal investigation has not been conclusively completed and the perpetrators are at large, new speculations will come up. Perhaps this was the very intention of the perpetrator(s). Not only among human rights defenders, fear is spreading.

Other mysterious deaths during the last years come to mind: Thus, in July 2001 the late Attorney General Baharuddin Lopa died unexpectedly on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. Lopa had been regarded as a person of high integrity, active in the fulfilment of his tasks. The circumstances of his death have to date not been cleared up completely. The Indonesian authorities did expressly not wish to have an autopsy performed and had Lopa’s body immediately transferred back to Indonesia.

Less than two months after Lopa’s death, Lieutenant General Agus Wirahadikusumah died equally unexpectedly. The officially announced cause of his death: heart failure. The 49 year old was considered to be THE reform-minded General and hopes were focussed on him and his work. But Agus W.K had enemies within the security forces, especially so after he had revealed a corruption scandal. About a year before his mysterious death, the former commander of the Army Strategic Command (Kostrad) had been transferred to a white collar position far off the centre of power in the armed forces.

No doubts remained, however, regarding the murder of Judge Syaifuddin Kartasasmita. In July 2001, he was murdered in broad daylight by contract killers. Kartasasmita had dared to sentence Tommy Mandala Putra, the son of ex-dictator Suharto, to a medium prison term on charges of corruption.

Differences as concerns details aside, all four deaths convey the same message: People in Indonesia who try to bring to light the truth about human rights violations and corruption cases, live dangerously. And there is reason to believe that this insight will also have an impact on the investigation of Munir’s death.

The long time-span between the conclusion of the investigation in the Netherlands and the release of the autopsy report to the public causes a number of questions: The examination of the corpse must have been concluded a few days after Munir’s death on September 7th, 2004. Already the following weekend, the body was transferred back to Indonesia and buried there. Thus, the results of the investigation must have been determined already at that time. Is it due to procedural tactics that it took so long to release the results or was the time used for diplomatic fine-tuning between the Dutch and the Indonesian authorities?

To date, no copy of the autopsy report has been handed to Suciwati, Munir’s widow, although she has repeatedly underlined her right to be the first to obtain the same. It is asking a lot to have confidence in the authorities, granted that an involvement of state authorities, like for example the security forces, cannot be ruled out.

In fact, the suspicion of members of the military as direct or indirect perpetrators immediately comes to mind. Who else had a motive to let Munir die in front of dozens of passengers on board a plane? This and the fact that the determination of the causes of his death would be carried out by authorities of a state regarded as reliable, indicate that the perpetrators wanted the death to be identified as murder – and as a warning for others.

On the other hand, such a scenario is so obvious that already for this very reason doubts are in order. It can not be ruled out that with so obvious a suspicion a wrong trail pointing to the military has been laid.

A transparent investigation and a due judicial process will be a litmus test for the sincerity and ability of the new Government under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in its efforts to advance the rule of law in Indonesia. We assume that leading officials are well aware of this responsibility. According to press reports, President Yudhoyono, while on official visit in Egypt, has already ordered that the result of the autopsy report be followed up in a transparent manner.

We call on the Indonesian Government, to make sure that a thorough investigation of the murder of Munir is conducted.

In Germany, Munir had on several occasions been a guest of political foundations, universities, aid agencies and NGOs. He met with German Ministers of State, Members of Parliament, high officials, Chief Judges, diplomats and representatives of the media. We call on all of them to underline vis-á-vis the Indonesian Government the importance of the murder of Munir to be cleared up completely and to speak out for the protection of human rights defenders. <>

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