Spy Could Face Death over Activist’s Murder

natmunir.jpgJAKARTA ~ A former top spy could face the death penalty after he was charged on Thursday with orchestrating the poisoning murder of a celebrated rights activist who had exposed military abuses.

Muchdi Purwopranjono, 59, an ex-deputy chief of the State Intelligence Agency (BIN), was charged with plotting Munir’s murder by arsenic poisoning as he flew from Jakarta to Amsterdam in 2004.

Prosecutors said the killing was an act of “revenge” after Munir uncovered the kidnappings of 13 activists by special forces under ex-general Muchdi’s command in the late 1990s.

Muchdi later used his new posting as a BIN deputy to order Garuda Indonesia pilot Pollycarpus Priyanto to poison Munir as he travelled on the national carrier, they said.

The case is the first time a high-ranking figure in the military establishment has faced justice over the murder, which rights activists have long suspected was the work of the secret intelligence services.

Pollycarpus was jailed for 20 years earlier this year over the murder, while Garuda’s ex-boss Indra Setiawan was also jailed for one year as an accomplice.

Prosecutors allege Pollycarpus telephoned BIN agent Budi Santoso after returning to Jakarta from Singapore, where he had poisoned Munir during a stopover.

The indictment quotes Pollycarpus as telling agent Santoso: “I got a big fish in Singapore.” Asked by Santoso if he had reported this to Muchdi, Pollycarpus said yes.

The Garuda pilot had earlier told Santoso that he had been ordered by Muchdi to “exterminate Munir,” according to the charge sheet.

Activists have hailed the prosecution of the former senior spy as a step forward for the country’s reform movement, but say the conspiracy to murder Munir goes higher than just Muchdi.

“There are still people there that ordered this. There are definitely superiors involved,” Munir’s widow, Suciwati, was quoted by local media as saying after the trial.

Defense lawyers have said they are afraid their client will not receive a fair trial.

About 50 nationalists calling themselves the “Red and White Brigade” after the colours of the Indonesian flag rallied in support of Muchdi outside the court.

They accused Munir of trying to destroy the country and denounced his supporters as agents of the United States.

Munir, who died aged 38, was the leader of independent rights watchdog Kontras and a vocal campaigner for victims of military abuses under the 1966-1998 Suharto presidency.

Muchdi, a former military general, has been in custody since he turned himself in to police on June 19 in Jakarta. He has denied the allegations.

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