Ex-Garuda chief on trial in Indonesian activist murder

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JAKARTA, Oct 9 (Reuters) The former head of Indonesia's national carrier Garuda today went on trial charged with conspiracy in the murder of a leading rights activist three years ago.

Prosecutors accused former Garuda president Indra Setiawan and his subordinate Rohainil Aini of aiding the main suspect in the murder of activist Munir Thalib.

Munir, an outspoken critic of Indonesia's military, died of arsenic poisoning while on board a Garuda flight in 2004.

Setiawan and Aini, who were tried in separate courtrooms, face a maximum sentence of death if found guilty.

Prosecutors are also trying to overturn a Supreme Court decision last year to clear the main suspect, Pollycarpus Priyanto, an off-duty Garuda pilot who was on the same flight with Munir before the activist's death.

Priyanto was sentenced to 14 years in 2005 for the murder, but the Supreme Court overturned the ruling, citing a lack of evidence and witnesses.

The Munir case is seen as a key test of Indonesia's legal system, as the rights lawyer was an outspoken critic of the military and its methods in quashing dissent and separatists in hotspots such as Aceh and Papua provinces.

Top UN human rights officials have urged Jakarta not to let the case slide.

State prosecutors said fresh evidence shows that Priyanto poisoned the activist while in transit at Singapore's Changi airport.

Setiawan's lawyers said because the verdict against Priyanto had been overturned, there was no reason to bring their client to trial.

Setiawan had previously told a case review hearing that before Munir's death he had received a letter from Indonesia's spy agency asking him to allow Priyanto to be a flight security officer. But Setiawan said he lost the letter, which was signed by a deputy chief of the agency.

Prosecutors said Setiawan's subordinate, Aini, signed the letter reassigning Priyanto as a security officer on Munir's flight.

REUTERS SG KN1423

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