Ex-Garuda Boss Jailed over Muir Murder

JAKARTA ~ The former boss of national carrier Garuda Indonesia was sentenced this week to one year in jail for assisting in the murder of a prominent rights activist.

The high-profile activist Munir Said Thalib died aged 38 as he travelled from Jakarta to Amsterdam in 2004, poisoned with arsenic by a Garuda pilot accused of links to Indonesia’s powerful intelligence agency, BIN.

“The defendant, Indra Setiawan, has been proven, legally and convincingly, of having been guilty of the crime of assisting a premeditated murder,” judge Heru Pramono said, reading the verdict at the Central Jakarta District Court on Monday.

“The action of the defendant damaged the image of Garuda Indonesia as the country’s national airline,” said the judge, citing one of the factors in the ruling against the defendant.

Pramono said that the Supreme Court’s ruling last month that saw an off-duty Garuda pilot, Pollycarpus Priyanto, sentenced to 20 years in prison for murdering Munir was also taken into consideration in formulating the verdict.

That ruling overturned a previous court decision that had freed Priyanto and shocked activists.

Setiawan had been charged with falsifying documents that had allowed Priyanto to travel on Munir’s flight.

Setiawan told the court during his trial that BIN officers asked him to assign Priyanto to Munir’s flight in a letter marked “secret” sent in April or May 2004. He said the letter disappeared from his car in December 2004.

Judge Pramono said that the defendant’s polite stance and respect of the court helped in his favor. Prosecutors had asked that he be sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Time the defendant had already spent in detention would be deducted from the one-year sentence, the judge said.

Setiawan told reporters after the trial that he would appeal.

Usman Hamid, who works for Kontras, a human rights organization founded by Munir, said he was disappointed with the length of the sentence.

Under Indonesian law Setiawan could have faced up to one-third of the sentence handed to the principal actor in the murder.

The sentence “belittles the role of this director, who had given Pollycarpus a special assignment. Without this role played by Indra, I don’t think Pollycarpus would have had the opportunity to do what he did,” Hamid said.

He added that the verdict should become a point from which the government can push to investigate fully the role allegedly played by BIN.

Human rights groups have long accused the agency of involvement in the killing, which it has denied. It has also consistently blocked any attempts for its senior officials to be questioned about the case.

Munir’s case has drawn widespread international attention and is seen as a test of how far the government has reformed since the 1998 end of former president Suharto’s regime.

The current president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has vowed to bring Munir’s killers to justice.

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