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Trial Opens in Murder of Prominent Indonesian Human Rights Activist

A pilot with Indonesia's national airline Garuda went on trial Tuesday for allegedly murdering a prominent human rights activist who was poisoned on a flight to Europe last September.

Indonesian prosecutors say Garuda pilot Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto murdered human rights activist Munir Said Thalib last September 9 because he disagreed with Mr. Munir's human rights activities.

The prosecutors charge that Mr. Pollycarpus arranged for arsenic-laced orange juice to be served to Mr. Munir on a Garuda flight from Jakarta to Amsterdam last September.

A Dutch autopsy showed Mr. Munir died from arsenic poisoning about two hours before the flight landed.

Members of a fact-finding team appointed by Indonesia's president say they found evidence the State Intelligence Agency, or BIN, may have been involved in Mr. Munir's murder. That investigation team was disbanded by the government in June, however, and police took over the case.

The fact-finding team's chairman, Asmara Nababan, says Mr. Pollycarpus is being used as a scapegoat and the government ignored the links between the pilot and members of the BIN.

"There is a connection between this Pollycarpus and BIN and there is a need for further investigation of the involvement of the BIN," he said.

A lawyer for Mr. Pollycarpus, Wiraman Adnan, says prosecutors are afraid to go after the State Intelligence Agency.

"They really do not have any case. They cannot find the real murderer, so they find an easy target and helpless man like Pollycarpus, because they have no guts to go after BIN, they go to here. I mean he may be a liar and things like that, but He's really not a murderer," said Mr. Adnan.

At the time of his death, the 38-year-old Mr. Munir was chairman of Kontras and Executive Director of Imparsial, two human rights organizations. He had repeatedly criticized the military for alleged human rights violations, illegal drug smuggling and logging activities.

If convicted of Mr. Munir's murder, Mr. Pollycarpus could face the death penalty.