The Murder of Munir: A Perfect Crime? (Chapter One)

This is the chapter one of The Murder of Munir: A Perfect Crime?, a narrative journalism on the murder of Munir Said Thalib, an Indonesian activist who was poisoned during a Jakarta-Amsterdam flight in 2004. This book was published by Gramedia Pustaka Utama in Indonesian in 2009.

Most parts of the book were based on my observations, official records ― court records, police interrogations, and the investigation report of the Garuda Indonesia ― and interviews with people who were directly involved in the events. Other sources ― media or people indirectly involved ― were identified in the text. Munir’s case is the most sophisticated murder in the Indonesian history, and the case was not solved until present.


September 6, 2004. Indonesia, mainly Jakarta, was busy with the election—the first direct presidential election since its 1945 independence. It was 14 days before D-day of the second round election when Indonesians would determine whether Megawati Sukarnoputri or Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to become their next national leader.

At night, a married couple were having a conversation in front of a departure gate of the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. They would live in two different countries for the next 13 months after living together for 9 years. The husband, Munir Said Thalib, would pursue a master’s degree in humanitarian law at University of Utrecht, The Netherlands.

At 9:30 P.M., a P.A. announcer asked all Garuda Indonesia passengers of GA 974 with Amsterdam destination to board. A group of people rushing, many of them are Dutch citizens, and Munir would also use the service of his nation’s flagship airline.

The plane had a capacity of 418 passengers divided into economy, business, and premium classes. Boeing 747-400 was the largest aircraft operated by Garuda Indonesia.

When entering the cabin door, Munir met Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, a Garuda pilot who was called Polly. Polly’s status in this flight was extra crew, the crew who flew as a passenger and would work for other tasks. They met near the entrance to the business class, which was the front door. As an economy class passenger, Munir should have been closer to his seat when entering through the back door. It was not clear why he board through the front one.

Started with a conversation with Polly, Munir ended up in the business class, numbered 3K. This 3K seat belonged to Polly, while Munir’s was 40G.

Polly then went up to the cockpit on the second floor to have a little chat with the cockpit crew on duty. As they were preparing for take off, Polly was invited by purser Brahmanie to sit in the premium class since there were many empty seats available. Purser is a cabin leader responsible for the comfort of all passengers, including the transfer of their seats. The extra crew in his pilot uniform of white shirt and blue pants then took 11B seat.

There are two stories on Munir’s transfer into the business class, which according to Brahmanie and Polly.

In the District Court trial in Central Jakarta, Brahmanie as a witness testified, “When in front of the toilet business, I met with Polly. Then, Polly, holding a green boarding pass, asked in the Javanese, ‘Mbak, nomer 40G nang endi? Mbak, aku ijolan karo kancaku,’ (Miss, where is number 40G? Miss, I switched with my friend.), without mentioning his friend’s name. And I would like to know who was his friend. So, I visited seat 3K, and it was Munir sitting there, I instantly knew his name, he’s famous, then I shook his hand. Polly did not sit on the 40G, but in the premium class on 11B at my suggestion since there were a lot of empty seats.”

However, during an interview, Polly said, “I met Munir at the door of Garuda aircraft, at Jakarta airport. He asked at the door of the business class, ‘Where is seat 40G?’ I said, ‘You are in the economy class, sir, but I don’t know where is the seat.’ The plane can load about 420 people, it’s so big. Then, it’s lined up, there were plenty of other passengers going in, I’ll let go them in first. As a crew. It was part of our service to the passengers. After that, because I was about to step into the business class, I told Munir, “I was sitting in the business class, if you wanted to here, please ask the cabin leader first, if it’s allowed, please be my guest, if not I’m sorry.” That’s all our conversation, no more than that,” said Polly in a conversation at the Cipinang penitentiary, Jakarta.

Before takeoff, in the business class, Yeti Susmiarti presented welcome drink. Passengers were asked to choose among  a glass of champagne, orange juice, or apple juice. Munir chose orange juice. Finished with the drink, Yeti distributed sauna towel and offered newspapers to her passengers. All services were presented by Yeti herself, with the help of Oedi Irianto, a senior steward, who prepared her needs in the pantry.

At 10:02 p.m., the aircraft piloted by Captain Sabur Muhammad Taufik took off. To measure the takeoff and landing times accurately, the aviation industry uses the terms block off and block on. Block off means the time when the blocks for the aircraft wheels are taken off and the aircraft starts to make its way to the runway. Block on refers to the arrival time of the aircraft, that is, when the blocks for the wheels are set on.

About 15 minutes after departure, the flight attendants offered to the passengers several packed hot dishes on trays. Sitting on seat 3K, Munir chose fried noodle. After the dish was served, Yeti returned to offer some drinks; this time, there were more choices than the welcome drinks offered previously. The choices were alcoholic beverages (whiskey, gin, vodka, red wine, white wine and beer), soft drinks, Buavita apple and orange juices, Berry tomato juice, Ultra plain milk, Aqua mineral water, tea and coffee. Just as he did before, Munir chose orange juice.

After flying over Java and Sumatera islands and the seas around them for 1 hour and 38 minutes, GA 974 arrived at Changi Airport, Singapore at 12.40 a.m. local time. Singapore time is one hour earlier than Jakarta time. The cabin crews gave the passengers time to take a walk or do any activities in the airport for 45 minutes.

Because Munir got off the aircraft through business class exit door, he managed to get to Coffee Bean faster than those exiting via the economy class door. After dropping by in the coffee shop, he went back to the aircraft through gate D 42.

In his way back to Garuda, he was greeted by a man.

“You’re Mr. Munir, right?”

“Yes, I am, sir.”

“I’m dr. Tarmizi from Harapan Kita Hospital. What are you planning to do in The Netherlands?”

“I’m going to study, for a year.”



“Gee, Indonesia is surely going to miss you. You’re such an important person,” dr. Tarmizi commented.

“Well … it’s important for me, sir,” Munir replied, smiling.

“You wrote something about Aceh, didn’t you? Now, what about that, can things be settled down there?” asked the doctor, while walking with him.

“Well, it depends to the intention, doc.”

“What do you mean?”

“If the intention is to get things settled down, three months will do.”

Then the West-Sumatera-born doctor picked out his wallet and gave Munir his business card, saying, “If you need me sometime, just contact me.”

Munir took the business card, and they separated. The doctor got into the business class, and Munir headed to the rear door of the aircraft and sat at the economy class 40G seat, as listed in his boarding pass.

Since Polly’s air trip ended in Singapore, Munir went back to his original seat for Singapore-Amsterdam flight.

The total transit time at Changi (from block on to block off times) is 1 hour 13 minutes. It was the time spent for refueling, changing all cockpit and cabin crews, and admitting additional passengers from Singapore. The aircraft took off from Changi at 1.53 a.m. The flight to Schipol was headed by Captain Pantun Matondang, with Madjib Nasution as the purser.

Before the aircraft flew to the air, flight stewardess Tia checked the passengers’ readiness for takeoff. When doing her job, she was called by Munir, who requested for Promag, a medicine for heartburn. The flight attendant, whose full name is Tia Dewi Ambara, asked him to wait a while since the aircraft was taking off and all cabin crews had to be seated at their designated places.

About 15 minutes later, after the aircraft reached the safe altitude, Tia started to distribute blankets and earphones. She continued by doling out the before-sleep meal. At the time she reached seat 40G, the man in grey shirt and black jeans was sleeping.

Tia woke him up and asked, “Have you got your medicine from my fellow crew, sir?”

“No, not yet.”

“We’re sorry. We don’t have any.”

Tia then offered food, which Munir refused. But, the man asked for hot tea. Tia served the tea, poured from the teapot to a cup on the trolley. Munir received it, complete with 1 sachet of sugar.

When Tia continued serving other passengers, Munir passed her by at the alley to the toilet. It was the first time Munir went to the toilet, about 30 minutes after takeoff.

It had been three hours that the big plane flew and now it was in the Indian sky. Munir went to the toilet more often. When walking at the cabin alley, which was dim because only some reading lights were on, he crossed paths with the flight attendant Bondan Hernawa. He complained about having a severe stomachache and diarrhea to Bondan, and asked him to call for dr. Tarmizi who was seated in the business class. Munir gave him the doctor’s card.

Complying with the procedure for such situation, Bondan reported to Madjib Nasution, the purser, who was in the Purser Station.

“Bro, Mr. Munir, one of our passengers, is sick. He’s been defecating and vomiting many times. He’s got a friend, a doctor, sitting in the cabin somewhere, but I don’t know where. Look for him, please,” said Bondan, handing out dr. Tarmizi’s card to him.

Madjib looked for the passenger named dr. Tarmizi in the Passenger Manifest and found that his seat number was 1J. He had not yet got his chance to seek for it when Munir was already in front of the Purser Station. Holding his stomach, Munir said, “I have defecated so many times, and vomited as well. Maybe my heartburn relapses. I shouldn’t have drunk the orange juice on our Jakarta-Singapore flight just now.” Munir continued his way to the toilet.

Madjib and Bondan got themselves to 1J and found that dr. Tarmizi was sleeping at 1K, the seat on the right hand side of his own seat which, since he found empty, he thus sat on. “Doctor, doctor …,” Madjib tried to wake him up. Both Madjib and Bondan repeated several times more with louder voice, but the surgeon was still in his sound sleep.

Madjib once again met with Munir at the alley and asked him to wake dr. Tarmizi up by himself, while Bondan went to the pantry to do his scheduled tasks.

Finally, dr. Tarmizi woke up. Munir explained his condition, which at the time seemed to be very weak, by saying, “I have vomited and defecated six times since flying from Singapore.”

Dr. Tarmizi suggested to Madjib that Munir be moved to seat number 4 since that place was empty and close to him. Munir then sat on seat 4D, and dr. Tarmizi took the seat next to his left side.

“Mr. Munir, what have you been eating these last two days?” asked the doctor, who specializes in cardiovascular thorax surgery.

Munir was silent, maybe because of the pain in his stomach. The question was then responded by Madjib, who said, “Mr. Munir had some orange juice, yet he shouldn’t because of his heartburn.”

Munir stayed quiet, saying nothing.

“This is unlikely to be heartburn,” said the doctor, who then asked Munir, “What did you eat?”

“Just usual.”


“Just usual.”

“One day before yesterday?”

“Just usual.”

The doctor then conducted a first general check-up on Munir, by taking off his patient’s T-shirt. He found that the pulse on Munir’s wrist was weak. The doctor opined that it was an indication of lacking of liquid due to diarrhea and vomiting.

Munir went back to the toilet, followed by the doctor, steward, and stewardess. After vomiting and defecating, he went back to seat 4D, and kept on coughing severely.

Dr. Tarmizi asked a stewardess to get Doctor’s Emergency Kit, which must be available in every aircraft. The box was sealed. After looking at the box’s contents, he believed that the medicines available were scarcely sufficient, especially for the case of Munir. Dr. Tarmizi needed infusion to give to Munir, but there was not any; nor special medicine for heartburn and diarrhea.

The doctor thus took some from his own bag. He gave Munir New Diatabs, a medicine for diarrhea, Zantacts, a remedy for nausea, and Promag, a cure for sore and bloated stomach. Two tablets for the first medicine, and one each for the latter two.

Dr. Tarmizi then asked the stewardess to make a cup of sweet hot tea with a little salt added to it.

Five minutes after drinking the tea, however, Munir went back to the toilet.

Dr. Tarmizi saw him vomiting. The vomit burst with great force, having neither color nor particular odor. Physicians would call it projectile vomiting. When Munir continued to defecate, the doctor waited outside the toilet.

Munir finished after five minutes and opened the door. While leading Munir through the alley, dr. Tarmizi commented to purser Madjib, “Why there’s no infusion kit in this aircraft, which flies for such a long trip?”

Inside the aircraft medicine box there was Primperam, a liquid cure for nausea and vomiting, 5 ml (1 ampoule dose) of which was injected to Munir’s body by dr. Tarmizi. The dose injected on Munir’s left shoulder worked well since Munir fell asleep right after.

His suffering vanished for 2-3 hours.

Munir woke up and went back into the toilet. He was there long enough, about 10 minutes, and the toilet door was not completely shut. Madjib allowed himself to take a peek through the gap and knocked the door, but no response was given by the person inside, who was struggling against great pain.

Madjib opened the door and saw the 38-year-old man was leaning limply on the toilet wall.

Purser Madjib immediately called the doctor, who for the last half an hour knew the most about the passenger’s condition.

Dr. Tarmizi asked Madjib and steward Asep Rohman to carry Munir back to seat 4D.

After seated, Munir was checked by dr. Tarmizi, in the less-lighted cabin which was illuminated only by reading lights. This condition was inevitable since it was the standard flight rule. First the wrist, and then the stomach. When his belly was poked by the doctor, Munir moaned, ‘Aw, it hurts,’ while holding his upper stomach.

Madjib suggested Munir to do Istighfar, and Munir replied by reciting, “Astaghfirullah Haladzim, La Illaha Illa Llah.” His hands kept holding his stomach.

Flight attendant Titik Murwati, who was nearby, initiatively gave Munir some rubbing balm, something which she expected to help relieve her passenger’s pain. With dr. Tarmizi’s approval, Titik applied on Munir’s stomach the balm, which could give warmth to it.

Munir said that he wanted to rest due to fatigue.

Dr. Tarmizi opened the medicine box again and took injection drug Diazepam. This time, assisted by purser Madjib, the doctor injected 5 mg on Munir’s right shoulder.

The time between the two injections Munir received was about 4-5 hours.

After the tranquilizer was injected, Munir still felt the heartburn. Fifteen minutes passed and Munir went back to the toilet, accompanied by the doctor, purser, and stewardess. In the toilet, Munir vomited and defecated.

Back to his seat, Munir said that he wanted to sleep on his back. The purser and his subordinate spread a blanket as a place mat on the floor in front of seats 4D-E and a pillow on it. Munir lied down there, with two more blankets put on to warm him.

Dr. Tarmizi told the cabin crew that Munir be kept an eye on, and that he wanted to have some rest because the next day he had a job (he later explained he was to conduct a heart surgery in a hospital in Swole). He asked to be woken up in case something happened with Munir; then told them to make sure that the doctor from Amsterdam who was going to take care of Munir the next day should bring with him infusions. Afterwards, the doctor went back to seat 1K and slept.

Munir could now have some sleep, but he changed his sleeping position many times, and it was always sideling, never on his back or on his stomach.

Madjib kept on being standby, looking after Munir, until 3 hours before the aircraft arrived at Schipol Airport, when the cabin crews prepared breakfast for the passengers. Madjib walked to dr. Tarmizi’s seat and asked if he should wake Munir up for breakfast. Dr. Tarmizi suggested that Munir should be let asleep. Madjib then did his routine, overseeing things inside the cabin.

About 2 hours before the aircraft landed, at 05:10 GMT or 12:10 PM Jakarta time, when breakfast time and the cabin lights were still on, again Madjib made his way to visit Munir’s ‘rest place’.

In front of seats 4D-E, he saw Munir’s body was in oblique position, facing the seats; there was non-foaming saliva coming out of his mouth, and his hands turned blue. Madjib held Munir’s hands and he felt cold. Madjib, shocked by his finding, rushed to the doctor’s seat.

The doctor held Munir’s wrist with his one hand, and his other hand patted Munir’s back. Repeatedly he called, “Mr. Munir… Mr. Munir…”

Finally, looking at purser Madjib in the eye, dr. Tarmizi said weakly, “Purser, Mr. Munir is dead… How can it be this soon, I wonder? If it’s only because of diarrhea and vomiting, humans can stand for three days.”

Purser Madjib asked Bondan and Asep to help him lift Munir’s stiff body to a better place: the floor in front of seats 4J-K. Munir lied on two sheets of blanket, his eyes were closed by Bondan, his body was covered with a blanket.

Bondan and Asep recited Surah Ya Sin in front of the remains of Munir Said Thalib, forty thousand feet above the land of Rumania.


Latest update about the case:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s