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Indonesia 17 July 2002

Reporters Without Borders outraged at the closure of investigations into the murder of journalist Sander Thoenes


The Indonesian public ministry is considering reopening the investigation into the death of Sander Thoenes, following the new information provided by Dutch authorities on 17 July.

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans Frontières) has voiced its indignation following the announcement by the Indonesian legal authorities that investigations into the murder of Dutch journalist Sander Thoenes have been dropped. "We are more than surprised and disappointed at this decision, which comes at a time when investigations were nearing their conclusion and suspects had been identified," says Robert Ménard, Secretary-General of the organisation, in a letter to the Minister for Justice and Human Rights, Yusril Ihza Mahendra. "It is imperative that the legal authorities review this decision; the Sander Thoenes case must not be another victory for impunity in Indonesia," concludes Mr Ménard. Reporters Without Borders are supporting Mr Thoenes’ family’s call for the case to be transferred to the international courts.

According to information obtained by the organisation, Barman Zahir, spokesman for the Attorney General’s department in Jakarta, announced on 13 June 2002 that proceedings in the case of Mr Thoenes, a Dutch journalist working for the Financial Times who was killed in East Timor on 21 September 1999, were being dropped. According to the Attorney General, investigators did not have sufficient "evidence" to bring charges against the principal suspect, Lieutenant Camillo dos Santos, an officer of the Indonesian army’s Batallion 745 which was deployed in the East Timorese capital, Dili, when the events took place. Dos Santos was formally identified earlier this year as the principal suspect by a number of eye-witnesses questioned by Dutch police, who have been carrying out their own independent investigations and have kept the Indonesian authorities regularly informed of their progress. Indonesian prosecutors said the Dutch investigators’ key witness was not "trustworthy" and frequently changed his statement. Also, while the results of the autopsy carried out by Australian forensic scientists noted bullet wounds on the journalist’s body, the conclusions of the Indonesian autopsy described knife wounds.

The announcement that the case is to be closed comes at a time when investigators appeared to be on the point of reaching a conclusion. Mr Thoenes’ family and the Dutch government were expecting a trial to take place in Indonesia. Bart Jochem, spokesman for the Dutch Foreign Minister, stated that there was "no reason for this case to be closed". According to Mr Jochem, "there is more than one reason for bringing this case before a court." The journalist’s family has appealed to the international community for "the murder of Sander Thoenes and other crimes committed in East Timor to be brought before an international tribunal, as the tribunal for East Timor set up by Indonesia is not making serious progress".

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