Last night, local time, during a ceremony celebrating democracy, one of the most noted killers in Indonesia, Col. Chaiwaran of BIN intelligence (Badan Intelijen Negara, State Intelligence Body), waited quietly in plainclothes.
(Chaiwaran, a US-trained Kopassus veteran, has been publicly implicated in disappearances, and told me in 1998 that he reported to a US Colonel, who worked for the US Defense Intelligence Agency [DIA]; see my “Our Man In Jakarta,” The Nation [US], June 15, 1998).
After the dancers and speeches had finished and the guests were gone from the Aceh governor’s palace, Col. Chaiwaran slipped in and met the governor till midnight.
As this was happening, news from Jakarta was confirming again that BIN had assassinated the famous activist, Munir, and — unreported — another far less famous activist was fleeing Indonesia in fear of his life.
This man had been at a pool with his wife and kids one recent Saturday when he got an urgent SMS text message, from family, saying he’d better come to Jakarta.
There he was confronted by a senior BIN man whom he, luckily, knew through family, and who informed him sternly that BIN was — as they now say in Indonesian security — considering “doing a Munir on him” (“akan di Munirkan”).
Munir was poisoned to death with arsenic as he traveled from Jakarta to Amsterdam, vomiting to death on the plane, reaching The Netherlands as a corpse (see posting of November 13, 2007, “Vomiting to Death on a Plane. Arsenic Democracy”).
(The new public news was that a BIN functionary who had paid Munir’s poisoner had now fingered one of his own bosses, Gen. Muchdi. This talking BIN man, though, was unavailable for court, overseas on “state duty,” and is reportedly “believed to be involved in intelligence operations in Pakistan”; see Mark Forbes, “Jakarta Spy Agency Linked to Murder,” The Age [Australia], January 17, 2008.)
The summoned activist, known to be a brave man, appeared to be shaken by the death threat since it followed two things: one, a detailed — accurate — recital of what he’d done in previous weeks (“You go to the store, we know it”), and, two, a reminder that BIN’s orders come directly from Indonesia’s President, Gen. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
This was relevant since the activist — not from a poor family — has a few connections himself, but since BIN is the instrument of the country’s military president, “You can’t do anything,” he was told.
His offenses were severalfold. He was trying to oust a BIN agent from political office (his purported right, under democracy), and he had been seen meeting with people from watch-listed regions, including West Papua (likewise, a supposed right).
He already knew that BIN men had been watching his house, coming to his workplace looking for him. He had disconnected his phones, and, at the Jakarta death-threat meeting he learned that BIN was perusing his bank accounts.
So as they danced democracy in Banda Aceh, he got some things together and fled.
Several of the countries he’s said to be considering going to now boast enhanced martial ties with Jakarta.
When told about the situation, one senior elected official tried to play down the danger. His theory: if they threaten you, you’re OK. “The barking dog doesn’t bite,” he said.
That didn’t work for Munir, the receiver of many threats, but some threatened are, indeed, still living.
When you live shadowed by killers in democratic plainclothes, you just have to count your blessings — or, secure more of them.