An Indonesian court yesterday cleared the former deputy head of the nation’s spy agency of masterminding the 2004 poisoning murder of human rights activist Munir Said Thalib.
Prosecutors had been seeking a 15-year jail term for former State Intelligence Agency (BIN) deputy chief Muchdi Purwopranjono for plotting the murder of the activist, who was an outspoken critic of the nation’s military.
The investigation into the killing is seen as a litmus test in Indonesia of how far the country has come in loosening the grip of the once-dominant military since the 1998 fall of dictator Suharto.
Munir, who died aged 38, was poisoned with arsenic as he flew from Jakarta to Amsterdam via Singapore on national airline Garuda Indonesia in September 2004.
“Muchdi Purwopranjono cannot be proved legally and convincingly to have ordered the murder of Munir,” a judge named Suharto told a court in Jakarta.
“He should be removed from detention immediately,” he said.
Purwopranjono was the first military official to face trial over the murder, which activists have long alleged was the work of senior intelligence officers.
Former Garuda airline boss Indra Setiawan and pilot Pollycarpus Priyanto were slapped with jail terms previously for their roles in the murder.
Munir was a prominent critic of human rights abuses by the military and provided legal counsel to victims of state violence during former dictator Suharto’s 32-year rule.
Prosecutors had alleged the killing was an act of revenge after Munir had uncovered the kidnapping of 13 activists allegedly by special forces under Purwopranjono’s command in the late 1990s.
The scandal led to the former general’s sacking as special forces chief, according to the indictment.
But Munir’s widow Suciwati said she was disappointed by the court’s decision.
“It’s painful. It shows that the bad guys have won ... we’ll fight on,” Suciwati said.
“Today we move one step back. But we’ll move 10 steps forward. We have to stand united to fight for justice,” she added.