Indonesian court clears former spy official of human right activist’s murder

In 2004, Indonesia’s most renowned human rights activist, Munir Said Thalib, was poisoned during a flight to the Netherlands. He was traveling aboard a plane operated by Garuda, Indonesia’s state carrier, when he consumed arsenic that had been clandestinely dispensed into his in-flight meal. A few months ago, Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, an off-duty Garuda pilot who was sitting next to Mr. Munir during his fatal flight, was given a 20-year prison term for poisoning the activist. During the court case, however, it was revealed that the convicted assassin had engaged in frequent telephone communication with General Muchdi Purwoprandjono, then Deputy Director of Indonesia’s State Intelligence Agency, commonly known as BIN. General Muchdi was thus promptly charged with conspiring to assassinate Mr. Munir, in a case that international observers described as “a test of how successful Indonesia has been in instituting reforms since the fall of Suharto, the country’s former authoritarian ruler, in 1998”. Not surprisingly, General Muchdi has now been clearred of all assassination charges, after “[s]everal witnesses contradicted their original statements, tried to withdraw statements altogether, or just simply failed to appear in court, seriously hampering prosecutors” during the trial. The military and intelligence rulers of Indonesia have enjoyed decades of US political and financial support. Among Indonesia’s most fervent American supporters is Navy Admiral Dennis Cutler Blair, who has been nominated by US President Elect Barack Obama for the position of Director of National Intelligence (DNI). In 2000 Blair led a group of Pentagon officials who were determined to maintain close relations with Indonesia’s military establishment, despite its documented involvement in horrendous massacres in East Timor. Later that year, Blair managed to circumvent the objections of the US Department of State, as well as repeated protests by US Ambassador to Indonesia, Robert Gelbard, and became “the first high-ranking US officer to visit Indonesia since the sanctions were imposed”. His reasoning for visiting Indonesia was that he “opposed abandoning a long relationship with Indonesia’s armed forces” and “worried that the Indonesian armed forces could become so alienated [by the termination of US support] that they would sever relations”. [JF]

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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