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Indonesian Court Acquits Pilot of Murdering Rights Activist


The Indonesian Supreme Court has thrown out a guilty verdict against an airline pilot in the murder of the country's top human rights activist, Munir Said Thalib. At one point, Indonesia's state intelligence agency was also implicated in the murder.

Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, a pilot with Indonesia's national airline, had been convicted of ordering two flight attendants to put arsenic in Munir Said Thalib's orange juice in September 2004, while on a Garuda Airlines flight bound for Amsterdam.

The state news agency, Antara, said the Supreme Court quashed that verdict Wednesday, because the prosecutors had failed to present any witnesses who actually saw Pollycarpus give the poison to Munir.

A lawyer for Pollycarpus, Adnan Wirawan, says he is happy the Supreme Court has acquitted his client.

"He is released from being accused as the murderer of Mr. Munir, to poison Mr. Munir - he is free from that," he said.

Munir, 38 at the time of his death, was a vocal critic of Indonesian strongman Suharto, and he continued to fight for democracy and human rights after the fall of Suharto in 1998. He also repeatedly accused the military of violating human rights, and of involvement in drug smuggling and illegal logging.

A government-sanctioned fact-finding team investigating Munir's murder concluded in 2005 that the State Intelligence Agency, or B.I.N., was involved in the plot, and said it suspected a connection between B.I.N. and Pollycarpus.

But in the trial court, prosecutors never mentioned the alleged links between Pollycarpus and B.I.N. They suggested instead that the pilot acted only with the help of the two Garuda crew members, and said Pollycarpus killed Munir because he did not like his politics.

The fact-finding team was officially disbanded in June of 2005, and its report was never fully released to the public.

At the trial, Pollycarpus claimed he had been assigned by the airline to supervise security on the Jakarta-Singapore leg of Munir's flight. He admitted giving his business class seat to Munir for the flight on to Amsterdam.

Pollycarpus produced a document in court to back up his claim that he had been on an airline assignment. But the two lower courts found the document to be a forgery, and this finding was upheld by the Supreme Court Wednesday.

Despite this, lawyer Adnan insists his client was not guilty of the forgery, either.

"Of course I'm happy that the sentence is reduced, but he's still being (found) guilty of something that he never did, which is forging a letter," he noted.

Pollycarpus was originally sentenced to 14 years in prison last December, and an appellate court upheld the original verdict.

The Supreme Court sentenced him to two years for the forgery. Adnan says his client will likely be released within four months, as he has already served most of the two-year sentence.