After environmental groups and the human rights commission requested for an investigation, Indonesian police are looking into the death of a legislator from Sulawesi island who opposed a gold mine project there.
Helmud Hontong, 58, the deputy regent of North Sulawesi’s remote Sangihe islands, was pronounced dead upon arriving at Sultan Hasanuddin International Airport in Makassar last Wednesday.
His aide, Harmen Kontu, who was sitting alongside him at the time, told Reuters that he appeared to be in good health before boarding a Lion Air flight on Bali island, but that he felt disoriented around 20 minutes after departure.
Helmud “lost consciousness shortly after, and blood gushed from his mouth and nose,” Kontu claimed.
According to Jules Abraham Abast, a spokesman for the North Sulawesi police, a team has been formed to investigate the death.
Initial results of an autopsy did not show any indication of poison, police said in a forensic report, adding that the suspected cause of death was chronic illness.
Police did not disclose any additional information, but they did say that forensic samples had been forwarded for further testing.
After receiving complaints from inhabitants of Sangihe Island, Indonesia’s human rights commission, Komnas HAM, head Ahmad Taufan Damanik, stated the commission has urged police to investigate. He also stated that the commission would keep an eye on the mining controversy.
Helmud was a vocal opponent of the firm, PT Tambang Mas Sangihe, being granted a 42,000-hectare gold mine concession. The mine was approved by the federal government in January.
Environmentalists say the mining permit, which covers more than half of Sangihe island, is a threat to the island’s ancient forest, at least 10 species of birds and water supplies for the island’s residents, most of them fishermen and farmers.
Helmud wrote to the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry on April 28 requesting that the mine permit be revoked due to environmental concerns.
The letter had been received, and ministry personnel were planning a meeting with authorities in Sangihe to discuss the mine, according to Ridwan Djamaluddin, a ministry official.
Helmud was close to the island’s population, according to Alfred Pontolondo, coordinator of the Save Sangihe Island environment organization, and opposed the mine “because of his love for the island.”
He remarked, “I don’t want to speculate on his death.” “If there’s any suspicion, let the cops handle it legally.”