Justice Delayed

As Munir's Assassin Regains His Freedom, Questions Still Loom Over Who Was Really Responsible

Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto is now a free man. But an investigation into who ordered the death of a prominent Suharto-era rights activist remains stalled.
August 30, 2018, 11:46am
Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, in the blue shirt, is seen in this file photo from 25 Jan. 2008. Photo by Dadang Tri/Reuters

The man responsible for the assassination of Indonesia's most-prominent human rights activist is now a free man. Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, a Garuda Indonesia pilot convicted of fatally poisoning Munir Said Thalib aboard an Amsterdam-bound Garuda Indonesia flight 14 years ago, completed his final four years of probation this week, drawing to a close a case that, in many regards, still remains unsolved.

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Pollycarpus was found guilty of Munir's murder, but few believe he acted alone, and any efforts to uncover the real men behind the death of one of former President Gen. Suharto's biggest critics remain stalled. An official document investigating the assassination that was ordered by former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono mysteriously vanished before its contents could be released to the public. A copy allegedly exists and, according to Former Minister of State Secretariat Sudi Silalahi, it was submitted to the government of current President Joko Widodo with the hopes that his administration would be able to continue the investigation.

“After we’ve analyzed the copy, with the former chairman and members of TPF, we can confirm that it’s the same with the original document,” Silalahi told Tirto.id. “We’ll submit the completed copy to Joko Widodo’s government.”

But to date, little has been said publicly about that document. Jokowi reportedly instructed Prasetyo, the attorney general, and Wiranto, the country's top security minister, to follow up on the case and then the matter just vanished from the conversation. At the time, Wiranto himself even refused to discuss the case openly in the press.

“Pollycarpus is now totally free, but the government still doesn’t want to reveal the other perpetrators of Munir’s case,” said Usman Hamid, a researcher with Amnesty International Indonesia and a former member of SBY's fact-finding committee. “SBY’s government failed to punish them. Jokowi’s government is no better.”

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Instead, it's a mystery that, to many, shows no signs of ever being officially solved. And this isn't the only one. Indonesia, now 20 years since the fall of Suharto, still struggles to address some of the skeletons of the New Order era. Efforts to recoup some of the losses that occurred during the period, hundreds of millions of US dollars worth of public funds that allegedly disappeared into the bank accounts of the Suharto family and their cronies, have stalled.

As have investigations into missing bailout funds for a Suharto-era state bank, the riots of May '98 that left Chinese-owned businesses in flames, thousands dead, and countless women raped, and the wave of anti-communist killings that occurred during the formation of the Suharto regime. All of these remain open investigations today, and, in many instances, the political will to restart investigations into the dark chapters of Indonesian history just isn't there.

Instead, many have just decided that it's better to move on. Now, Pollycarpus is about to do the same. He was sentenced to 14 years behind bars, but was released after serving eight. He was then required to serve four years of probation, where he had to regularly report to the Bandung Correctional Center (Bapas), but now that's over as well.

Pollycarpus himself seems interested in restarting his life as a politician. He recently joined a new political party founded by the son of Suharto called Beringin Karya Party, or Berkarya for short. That party, the work of Tommy Suharto, plans to field a number of candidates in next year's legislative race, including Tommy himself, who is running to be a lawmaker representing Papua.

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But Pollycarpus could find himself occupying a very different role, if the Jokowi administration decides to follow through on its investigation. Now a free man, Pollycarpus himself could be called before the courts as a key witness in Munir's death. Rights groups have long claimed that Pollycarpus didn't act alone, pointing to reports that alleged he was part of a larger plot to poison the activist led by several prominent members of the national intelligence agency, BIN.

“It’s time for Jokowi’s government to disclose the report to public," Usman told VICE. "Some [former] BIN officials were [allegedly] involved in the murder. [But] the government never followed up on the report with an investigation. The Attorney General never took further action. The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) conducted a separate investigation in the 2000s, but they got no response when the report was submitted to Attorney General."

A member of Jokowi's administration said they tried to reopen the Munir case, but it struggled to find and new, solid evidence that implicated additional people in the assassination plot.

"The evidence is weak because it happened a long time ago," said Jaleswari Pramodhawardani, a human rights deputy at the presidential office, in an interview with BBC.

Some skeletons, it seems, stay buried forever.