Indonesia Sentences Killer of Rights Activist to 14 Years in Prison

A court in Indonesia has found an employee of the state airline guilty of poisoning a prominent human-rights activist. Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto was sentenced to 14 years in jail for giving Munir Thalib a fatal dose of arsenic on a flight to Singapore last year. Friends and associates of Mr. Munir say they believe the conspiracy to kill him went higher.

This was considered a test case for the Indonesian government. Many people believe Munir Thalib - one of the country's most prominent human-rights activists - was killed for his outspoken criticisms of the army and other powerful Indonesian institutions.

In September last year, Mr. Munir was flying to Singapore on Indonesia's national airline, Garuda, on the first leg of a journey to Amsterdam. Prosecutors said Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, a former Garuda pilot, offered to let Mr. Muniir have his business class seat.

Mr. Munir accepted the offer, and with it, the prosecution said, a meal laced with a huge dose of arsenic. Mr. Munir died in agony two hours before the plane landed in the Netherlands.

The court found Priyanto guilty of planning the murder, but came to no conclusion as to whether he was acting on someone else's orders. Friends and associates of Mr. Munir have welcomed the verdict, but they say it does not close the case.

Mr. Munir was the founder of the human rights group Imparsial. Rachland Nashidik is his successor.

"I believe the verdict was not enough in terms of that it only punish an actor, but not the mastermind, and also there is a big possibility that in the process of appeal, he could be freed," he said.

Mr. Munir was one of the most prominent of the generation of Indonesian human rights activists who were instrumental in bringing down the dictatorship of President Suharto in the late 1990s. The killing sparked an outcry, prompting the new president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to instigate a high-level inquiry.

When the inquiry board delivered its verdict in June, it recommended that links between Priyanto and the National Intelligence Agency be probed further.

The prosecution alleged that Priyanto was working with the intelligence agency, but that was not proven during the trial, and both the convicted man and the agency deny it. As his sentence was read in the central Jakarta court, Priyanto shouted his innocence.