The Appointment of Hendropriyono as an Adviser in Jokowi’s Transition Team

Suciwati Munir, the wife of the late Indonesian activist Munir Said Thalib has criticised Jokowi's appointment of Hendropriyono to his transition team. Image
Suciwati Munir, the wife of the late Indonesian activist Munir Said Thalib has criticised the appointment of Hendropriyono to Jokowi’s transition team and questioned Jokowi’s commitment to human rights issues in Indonesia. Image

It was with such great elation that many journalists and other commentators announced the victory of Jokowi, the first truly post-Suharto figure elected to office in Indonesia. There was a lot at stake in the eyes observers in terms of the tone the next leader would set for the country for the next 5 years.

In the lead up to the election even The Jakarta “there-is-no-such-thing-as-being-neutral-when the stakes are so high” Post, openly declared their endorsement of Jokowi. Whilst other English-speaking media didn’t openly endorse the candidate, they did vigorously express their concerns about Prabowo, and for good reasons considering Prabowo’s alleged involvement in several controversial events in Indonesia.

Others like Tim Hanigan described the situation more sagely, in ways only long-time observers of Indonesia could, stating in an article during the campaign period that perhaps whoever was elected wouldn’t matter in the end, that “neither worst fears nor greatest hopes [would] ever seem really to come to pass”. That instead, varying constellations of the current powerful players would emerge in different alliances in years to come, including Praowo, Rais, Jokowi, Megawati, and Bakrie along with the other usual players in Indonesian politics. Several Indonesian political observers also made similar observations.

Many high profile Indonesian activists and artists stayed decidedly neutral, or even silent, throughout the period, and were questioned for it. But they put their silence down to letting their followers make their own, responsible electoral choices.

Those who spoke out in support of Jokowi were celebrated by expat coverage. It seemed to be a narrative of Jokowi as messiah for foreigners and the foreign press, the goodie versus baddie narrative Western media is such a fan of.

I too am probably guilty of that.

Now, however, there is a confounding silence coming from direction of the English-speaking world’s media commentators as to human rights implications for the appointment of Hendropriyono as an adviser three days ago to the transition team that will prepare Jokowi’s power-transfer from outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. (And I say the English speaking press, because in contrast it is a highly discussed matter in Indonesia right now).

Hendropriyono is suspected of being linked to the murder of human rights campaigner Munir Said Thalib in 2004. The former BIN chief, however, has denied the allegations and maintained that he had nothing to do with the case.

Jokowi has continued to play down the issue of appointing former intelligence chief Hendropriyono over the past few days.

“There are no problems. I can’t screen everybody that comes to me. Should I ask him if he was involved in this or in that, or in that abduction? It’s not like that. This is a legal issue and should be made clear. [Hendropriyono] should explain that,” Joko said on Sunday.

“I was appointed as an adviser,” Hendropriyono said of his appointment on Saturday. “I will prepare myself to give advice on intelligence.”

The wife of the late human rights activist (HAM) Munir, Mrs Suciwati, however criticised the appointment of Hendropriyono as an advisor to the Transition Team, claiming this is an indication that Jokowi will not, after all, “keep his promise that he would punish human rights violators”.

Harris Azhar, executive director of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), said that the appointment of Hendropriyono has raised concerns that human rights issues could take a backseat on the next government’s agenda.

The transition team was set up last week by Joko and is led by Rini M.S. Soewandi, a former minister of industry and trade, to help the incoming administration on budget matters and provide recommendations on cabinet appointments.

Hendropriyono’s involvement in the team prompted a warning from Haris Azhar, the coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, or Kontras, who pointed to the former intelligence chief’s role in a bloody military crackdown on civilians in Talangsari, Lampung, in 1989, as well as his alleged links to the murder of prominent rights activist Munir Said Thalib in 2004.

Hendropriyono was never charged over the death of Munir, who was poisoned on board a flight from Jakarta to Amsterdam, but his deputy at the BIN at the time, Muchdi Purwopranjono, was indicted and later acquitted in the case.

Munir Said Thalib, affectionately known simply as Munir, was a high profile Indonesian human rights and anti-corruption activist. He was the founder of the Kontras human rights organisation and laureate of the 2000 Right Livlihood Award. Munir was assassinated in 2004 while travelling to Utrecht University to pursue a master’s degree in international law and human rights. His last position was executive director of IMPARSIAL, another Indonesian human rights NGO.