Audio Q&A: Activist’s murder case a test for new Indonesian president

Friends of assassinated rights activist Munir Said Thalib within Joko Widodo’s circle can influence the president-elect to re-open the murder case. EPA/MAST IRHAM

Indonesian human rights activist Usman Hamid says president-elect Joko Widodo could do better than the outgoing Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in solving the murder of rights activist Munir Said Thalib, despite having the alleged mastermind of Munir’s killing in his team of advisers.

Hamid said that while Jokowi, as Widodo is popularly known, has appointed former spy chief A.M. Hendropriyono as an adviser, he is also surrounded by people who were close to Munir before his murder 10 years ago.

Jokowi who won the 2014 presidential race as Indonesia Democratic Party of Struggle’s (PDIP) candidate, had promised to act on past human rights abuses, which included ensuring accountability for any state involvement in the murder of Munir.


Munir, the founder of the Commission for “The Disappeared” and Victims of Violence (KontraS), died on board a Garuda Indonesia flight en route to Amsterdam on September 7, 2004. He was poisoned during transit in Singapore.

He had opposed Hendropriyono’s appointment as spy chief in 2001. Munir represented hundreds of families of victims of the Talangsari massacre, in which Hendropriyono was allegedly involved.

Hendropriyono, a close friend of former president and PDIP chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri, was the head of Indonesia’s State Intelligence Agency (BIN) at the time of Munir’s murder. He and his deputy, Muchdi Purwopranjono, allegedly masterminded the killing, according to a 2004 presidential fact-finding team.

Hamid, a former member of that team, believes that the presence of people who were close to Munir within Jokowi’s circle would be “one of the determinant factors” in influencing Indonesia’s new president to re-open the case.

“I can mention some names, like Rizal Sukma, or even the deputy of the transition office, Andi Widjayanto, was very close to Munir,” Usman said.

Rizal Sukma is an international relations expert from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) who advises Jokowi.

Widjayanto, a security expert from the University of Indonesia, has written a book about Munir with Jaleswari Pramodhawardani, an expert on defence from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI). Pramodhawardani is also an adviser to Jokowi.

Yudhoyono had promised to solve the murder case of Munir in 2004. He appointed the fact-finding team in 2004.

Hamid said that when the team’s findings pointed strongly towards high-level people in the intelligence agency, Yudhoyono and the parliament became less willing to support the investigation.

“I conclude that Yudhoyono, who has laid down to the people and to the world that this case is a test of Indonesia’s history, has failed to deliver justice,” he said.

A former Garuda pilot, Pollycarpus Budhi Priyono, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for murdering Munir.

Hamid said the murder is a symbol of the structural problems of political violence in Indonesia.

“This is a test for Jokowi of course. Will he listen to Hendropriyono? Will he listen to some other good guys? Or will he listen to the public?”