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A verdict leaves questions in Indonesia

Man convicted in fatal poisoning of rights activist

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- A court yesterday convicted a pilot of poisoning Indonesia's top human rights activist and sentenced him to 14 years in prison. But the victim's widow alleged there was a larger conspiracy and demanded an investigation into the pilot's links with a senior intelligence official.

The activist, Munir Thalib, gained prominence during former dictator Suharto's rule, when he openly criticized Indonesia's government and spoke of brutality by security forces.

The court said Pollycarpus Priyanto, an off-duty pilot, placed a massive dose of arsenic in Thalib's meal on a Garuda Indonesia airlines flight on Sept. 7, 2004, because he wanted to silence the outspoken government critic.

The case attracted international attention, with the US House of Representatives and the European Union parliament among those calling for justice.

Thalib, 38, was flying to Amsterdam to pursue graduate studies when Priyanto -- with the knowledge of two flight attendants for state-owned Garuda -- placed the arsenic in his fried noodles, the court said.

''The accused then pretended to be reading a Dutch magazine, while at the same time keeping an eye on Munir to make sure he had eaten all his noodles," Judge Cicut Sutiarso said at the Central Jakarta District Court.

Thalib became violently ill and died two hours before landing at Schipol International Airport.

''The accused has been found guilty of premeditated murder," Sutiarso told the court.

''I didn't do it!" Priyanto screamed after the sentencing. ''I reject the verdict! I will appeal."

Amid the international outrage, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered an independent investigation. The report was never made public, but members of the team have said the State Intelligence Agency may have been involved.

Thalib's widow, Suciwati Thalib, and other human rights activists accused government-appointed prosecutors and police of failing to follow up the allegations. She has insisted Priyanto did not act alone.

''Police should investigate links between Pollycarpus and the deputy intelligence chief," she said. ''They have to find the mastermind. Pollycarpus played only a small part in this conspiracy."

Sutiarso said that Priyanto received many calls from a phone registered to a senior intelligence agent before the murder, but did not elaborate. The judge has not said whether the defendant acted on higher orders.

In July, a visiting delegation of EU parliamentarians called on Indonesia to find and punish Thalib's killers. Last month, US lawmakers urged Yudhoyono to publicize the investigation's report. They also recommended he set up a new commission ''with a strong mandate to explore the evidence wherever it may lead . . . including the State Intelligence Agency."

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