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Indonesia Police to Investigate Suspicious Death of Human Rights Lawyer


An autopsy on a prominent Indonesian dissident who died two months ago has revealed that his body contained high levels of arsenic. The lawyer, called Munir, originally was thought to have died from natural causes, and the recent discovery has prompted the police to open an inquiry into his death. Munir was one of the most prominent members of a political generation that six years ago helped to bring down the government of Indonesia's disgraced President Suharto. When he died on a flight from Indonesia to the Netherlands in September, his death was initially ascribed to a heart attack, but an autopsy by the Dutch authorities showed he had elevated levels of the poison arsenic in his body.

The Indonesian police said Friday they would open an inquiry to see if the 38-year-old Mr. Munir, who only used one name, had been deliberately poisoned.

Sidney Jones is the Southeast Asia head of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group and knew Mr. Munir for many years. She says the group he founded changed the political landscape in Indonesia. "He was this absolutely fearless, very funny, very determined, very committed individual who single-handedly put together what was at the time the most important human rights organization in Jakarta, which was Kontras," said Ms. Jones.

Munir once said he had "lost count" of the number of death threats he had received, and Ms. Jones says it is important that his death is fully investigated.

However, she would be surprised if it turns out that he was murdered by members of the government or army who opposed him: Ms. Jones says that although it is not unusual for human rights workers in Indonesia to be threatened and sometimes physically abused, murder of someone so prominent is far less common.

If the suspicions that Mr. Munir was deliberately poisoned are confirmed, it would be an unwelcome resurgence of the sort of brutal tactics that many Indonesians hoped had become a thing of the past.

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