Munir’s Death Foul Play Must Be Probed

The Jakarta Post, November 18, 2004

H.S. Dillon, The author is a human rights activist, and currently serves as the executive director of the Partnership for Governance Reform in Indonesia

The forensic results recently released by the Dutch authorities have served to confirm a nagging suspicion. The large traces of arsenic found in his organs have reportedly led the Dutch to recommend a criminal investigation into the exact circumstances under which such a lethal dosage found its way into Munir.

It is well-established that small traces of arsenic are found around us, counterbalanced by the fact that our defense mechanisms have the capability to handle such minute dosages. Rumor has it that Napoleon was murdered by systematically lacing his food with arsenic over an extended period. As arsenic is odorless and only has a very slight acidic taste, Napoleon must have attributed it to the cooking style of his chef on the isle of Elba. Such gradual accumulation overcomes our defense mechanisms and often as not causes renal failure.

However there is a stark difference in the case of Munir. When we were having a farewell lunch at the Imparsial office on the previous Friday before his death, I introduced Munir to my wife, a physician who had come to pick me up. It so happened that they were scheduled to be on the same Monday evening flight on the Singapore-Amsterdam leg.

Witness accounts indicate that Munir had gastrointestinal problems soon upon boarding and that the crew had apparently seated Munir next to a physician in the business class for closer observation. Since there was no inquiry over the public address system as to whether there was a doctor on board, my wife had no knowledge of what Munir was going through. Upon inquiry after the tragic news broke out, she told me that she had seen him at a distance when boarding at Changi.

She vividly remembers noticing that he looked pale, although she was unable to reach him due to the full flight. As he expired in mid-flight undetected, one does not have to be a conspiracy theorist to conclude that he must have ingested a large amount of arsenic. However, to lay people symptoms of arsenic poisoning would appear at first blush to be a simple case of cardiac failure.

Having resolved the cause — likely poisoning — we now turn to the motive. Who would want to kill Munir? Who would stand to benefit from terminating a young, fearless activist speaking on behalf of the faceless and the silenced? An Indonesian fighting incessantly to raise the dignity of his people?

Why would they choose this moment, when he was going to be away anyway? Who would fear Cak Munir attacking them from beyond their reach? Are they connected to those who physically attacked his KONTRAS office? At this stage it would be easy to succumb to speculation. Whoever it could be, it is a well-established fact that Munir abhorred violence by all; whether they be attired in official uniform or religious garb.

This assassination of Munir is not just an ordinary crime; it is a crime against all defenders of the oppressed — a crime against humanity.

That the Dutch authorities opted to send the autopsy through official channels can easily be understood, what is not so easy to comprehend is our officials’ motives in leaking this information to the press prior to informing Munir’s next of kin. This is a faux pas the government should swiftly make amends for.

They should immediately hand the full report of the autopsy over to Suciwati, Munir’s wife, to allow her to share it with the public. Then all of us would know what the full findings are and as a nation know how to proceed.

The desire to dispatch a team of forensic experts to the Netherlands for an investigation is farcical; reminiscent of parliamentary junkets. We maintain a large embassy there and if anything remains unclear, they should set up a video-conference with the Dutch doctors who conducted the autopsy in Holland.

I am sure that our embassy in The Hague, in cooperation with the Dutch Embassy in Jakarta, would be happy to facilitate such an interchange. It would be a positive demonstration of good governance if human rights activists and press were allowed to participate.

Stranger still are the acts of officials who raise questions as to the authenticity of the report; I would tell them — please erase all thoughts of flying to Europe on the pretext of personally securing a “certified” document.

“This murder most foul, as in the best it is” (Hamlet, Act 1, scene V), comprises a serious threat to our fledgling democracy. An independent commission of inquiry should immediately be established with credible representatives from both government and civil society. The onus to disprove that something is rotten in the state of Indonesia rests squarely on the shoulders of the authorities.

It is clear that the leadership of the new administration is being put to the test. Being a champion of governance reform, the President should move with resolve and conviction. We, with whom Munir walked a part of his short life, will not rest until the perpetrators of this heinous crime are brought to justice.

The author is a human rights activist, and currently serves as the executive director of the Partnership for Governance Reform in Indonesia


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