Alert Issued: September 18, 2009
Usman Hamid, Coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS), is being investigated for criminal defamation. The Jakarta police investigation was instigated by the same retired State Intelligence Agency official alleged to have orchestrated the murder of Hamid’s late colleague, noted human rights lawyer Munir Said Thalib.
Mr. Hamid has been one of the most persistent voices in the effort to hold accountable all those responsible for the fatal poisoning of Munir in September 2004. Retired Major General Muchdi Purwopranjono was acquitted of murder on December 31, 2008, after a trial marred by allegations of witness intimidation and the presence of intimidating groups in the courtroom. Outside the court, Usman Hamid criticized the verdict and, according to media reports, asserted that Muchdi had murdered Munir.
Criminal defamation charges are used by many governments that wish to silence their political opposition. This violation of Usman Hamid’s freedom of expression is a 180-degree departure from the course the Indonesian government should be pursuing: vigorous and just prosecution of all those, no matter how powerful, who had a hand in the murder of Munir.
TAKE ACTION NOW to urge President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to end the investigation of Usman Hamid and to reinvigorate investigation and prosecution of Munir’s killers.
On September 7, 2004, Munir Said Thalib, one of Indonesia’s most effective and prominent human rights defenders, fell ill and died on Garuda Indonesia flight 974 from Singapore to Amsterdam. Munir had been poisoned with a massive amount of arsenic.
Munir’s persistent work promoting and protecting human rights in Indonesia had earned him not only enemies but also widespread support in both in Indonesia and overseas. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called Munir’s case a test of Indonesia’s democratic reform. In part in response to demands by Munir’s supporters, President Yudhoyono created an independent fact-finding team (Tim Pencari Fakta, or TPF) to conduct a parallel investigation to that of the police. Usman Hamid, now the Coordinator of KontraS, one of the human rights organizations Munir founded, was a member of the independent fact-finding team. That team gave its report to the president in June 2005, but the government has failed to release it to the public-despite a provision in the presidential decree that created the body, which requires its release. Human Rights First’s white paper includes more information on the investigation.
The investigation first focused on an off-duty Garuda pilot, Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, who used false documents to board Munir’s flight. Pollycarpus was eventually convicted of murdering Munir. After investigators determined that senior airline officials had helped Pollycarpus obtain the false documents, the former Garuda Chief Executive Officer, Indra Setiawan, was convicted as well. Culpability for Munir’s murder does not end there, however, as Pollycarpus and Indra Setiawan were considered minor players in the murder scheme.
The investigation team homed in on dozens of calls between Pollycarpus and the phone of a senior official at the State Intelligence Agency (Badan Intelijen Negara, or BIN), that took place around the time of the murder. That official, Muchdi Purwopranjono, was then the deputy at BIN and the former head of the army’s abusive special forces unit, Kopassus. BIN officials initially refused to cooperate with the TPF, but the police investigation eventually led to Muchdi’s arrest in June 2008. Muchdi went on trial in August 2008 in Jakarta.
Muchdi’s trial was deeply flawed. During the five-month trial, intimidating groups present in the courtroom yelled at prosecution witnesses and applauded defense witnesses. Such groups are often hired or invited to attend trials and demonstrations in an effort to influence the proceedings. Throughout the trial, witnesses systematically retracted sworn statements to the police. Many witnesses-former or current intelligence officials or retired military members of the military-also claimed to have forgotten basic facts, contradicted statements to investigators, or simply failed to appear in court. For more information on Muchdi’s trial, go here.
Following the disclosure of the verdict, Usman Hamid spoke outside the court. He criticized the verdict and, according to media reports, asked “Siapa pembunuh Munir?” (Who murdered Munir?) According to those reports, he answered his own question: Muchdi. On September 3, 2009, Mr. Hamid received a summons from the police, accusing him of criminal defamation of Muchdi. Mr. Hamid reported to the police on September 9, seeking clarification and requesting that he be allowed to give his statement later. The investigation is pending.
Muchdi’s acquittal was a tremendous blow to human rights defenders and indeed to all who seek a stronger and more stable democracy in Indonesia. The failure of the Indonesian government to ensure the fairness of Muchdi’s trial-in part by protecting witnesses-was compounded in June 2009, when the Indonesian Supreme Court rejected the prosecutors’ appeal of the acquittal. The criminal defamation investigation of Usman Hamid further undermines the promotion and protection of human rights in Indonesia: not only did a member of Indonesia’s historically most powerful elite escape justice, but also a defender exercising his right to freedom of expression is being threatened.
As they have since Munir’s murder, Usman Hamid and his colleagues continue to persevere in their quest for justice. Mr. Hamid and the head of Imparsial, the human rights organization Munir led at the time of his murder, were the subjects of criminal defamation charges earlier in the investigation. Those accusations were leveled by A.M. Hendropriono, a retired army general who was chief of BIN at the time of Munir’s death, and they were abandoned only when Hendropriono succeeded in avoiding TPF’s questioning.
Despite threats to his freedom, Usman Hamid continues his work. As he and Matt Easton, our former HRF colleague, wrote, “For more than four years, no case has been more central to the security of human rights defenders in Indonesia than the 2004 poisoning of Munir Said Thalib.” Without the bravery of Usman Hamid and his colleagues at KontraS, Imparsial, and other organizations, this critical case-and the cause of promoting human rights in Indonesia-would founder.
March 09, 2010
Subject: End Investigation of Usman Hamid
Dear President Yudhoyono,
I was troubled to hear that Usman Hamid, Coordinator of KontraS, is now the subject of a criminal defamation investigation, thanks to accusations by Muchdi Purwopranjono. Muchdi’s trial for murder of Munir Said Thalib, Usman Hamid’s late colleague, was marred by systematic intimidation and witness tampering. Following the trial, Mr. Hamid exercised his right to free expression, indicating to supporters that he believed justice had not been done. On September 3, 2009, he received a summons accusing him of criminal defamation. Mr. Hamid reported to the Jakarta Regional Police on September 9, 2009, and the investigation is pending.
As you stated five years ago, the case of Munir’s murder is a test for Indonesia’s history. Under your leadership, the country has made significant progress toward stable democracy. Unfortunately, however, the country has not yet passed the test you set out for it. Your recent re-election allows you the opportunity to ensure that Indonesia’s government successfully meets the challenge of holding to account all those responsible for Munir’s murder. I urge you not only to persevere in that pursuit, but also to ensure that those supporting the pursuit do not see their own rights violated.
Mr. Hamid has worked within the government system to ensure that justice is done for Munir. He served on the independent fact-finding team (Tim Pencari Fakta, or TPF) that you created. He and his colleagues at KontraS, Imparsial, and other organizations continue to provide information to the attorney general’s office. Mr. Hamid, like all human rights defenders who work in a non-violent manner to promote and protect the human rights of all citizens, deserves the government’s respect, not its investigation.
I therefore hope you will ensure that the prosecutors distinguish between defamation and free speech. Furthermore, criminal defamation laws have no place in a government that welcomes political opposition. Freedom of expression, which such laws violate, is a critical element to any stable democracy. I therefore hope you will work to ensure that Indonesia’s criminal defamation laws are repealed. Finally, I hope that you will ensure that the historic case of Munir does not collapse, by releasing the TPF’s report, as well as by reactivating the police investigation team to find more and new evidence or creating an independent team to investigate the apparent witness tampering that occurred during Muchdi’s trial.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. I will continue to monitor this case closely.
General Bambang Hendarso Danuri
Chief of Indonesia National Police
Jl. Trunojoyo No.3
Mr. Hendarman Supandji
Attorney General of the Republic of Indonesia
Jl. Sultan Hasanuddin No.1
Jakarta Selatan – 12160