Garuda Faces Fresh Legal Battles

JAKARTA ~ The widow of a prominent Indonesian rights activist who died from poisoning aboard a Garuda flight appealed this week for a sterner ruling against the national carrier, a lawyer said.

A Jakarta court found the airline guilty of negligence early this month for failing to take adequate action to prevent the death of Munir Said Thalib from arsenic poisoning.

But the court ordered Garuda to pay just US$73,800 in damages to his widow, Suciwati, a fraction of the $1.4 million she sought.

Suciwati, and rights groups who filed the civil case on her behalf, also wanted a public apology from the airline.

“We object to the court’s decision that only ordered part of the financial damages and not the public apology and an internal audit of the airline,” Suciwati’s lawyer, Asfinawati, said on Wednesday.

“The court gave the impression that although our case was strong … they did not have the courage to order more financial fines,” Asfinawati said.

Garuda has been at the centre of a storm over Munir’s 2004 murder, amid claims by Suciwati and rights groups of a cover-up in the original police investigation and links to the nation’s powerful intelligence agency, BIN.

Munir was poisoned during a stopover at Singapore’s Changi airport and died about two hours before his Garuda flight landed in Amsterdam.

The government has come under intense pressure to act over the controversial case after an off-duty Garuda pilot, charged with carrying out the poisoning, had his conviction quashed late last year by the Supreme Court.

Police have reopened their investigation, and last month arrested two former Garuda executives for allegedly falsifying documents that allowed the off-duty pilot to travel at the last minute on Munir’s flight.

Wednesday’s appeal came as the Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI) planned to file a separate civil lawsuit against Garuda over Munir’s death.

The foundation would launch action under the nation’s consumer laws in an attempt to force the airline to change its policies on dealing with ill passengers, said Asfinawati, who is also acting for the foundation.

“YLKI as an institution has the right to press charges to demand policy changes…,” she said

“YLKI will invite other consumer organizations to join the legal effort,” said Asfinawati, adding that the action would probably be filed next month.

The Jakarta court, in its ruling this month, said the head pilot on the Amsterdam flight could have made an emergency landing in an attempt to save Munir’s life.

Munir made powerful enemies through his work exposing rights abuses – including in Papua and East Timor – during and after the rule of president Suharto, which ended in 1998.

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