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South Africa court says anti-apartheid activist was murdered

JOHANNESBURG — An anti-apartheid activist who died in 1971 was tortured and killed by South African police, a court said Thursday, a landmark decision that raised hopes that dozens of similar cases would be investigated.

The inquest into Ahmed Timol’s death had riveted the nation, as legal experts said it could set a precedent for examining similar deaths.

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‘‘It is sad that it took so long,’’ Nobel Peace Prize winner and former archbishop Desmond Tutu said in a statement read out by Timol’s family, local media reported.

The court found that Timol did not kill himself by jumping from a 10th-floor window, as authorities said at the time. An inquest found that the South African Communist Party member was murdered after his arrest and transfer to a Johannesburg police station, where opponents of white minority rule were often held without trial and tortured.

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Judge Billy Mothle said evidence suggests Timol was pushed out of the window. Two former police officers should be investigated, one for allegedly misleading the court and another for alleged perjury, the judge said.

Timol was one of 73 political detainees who died in police custody in South Africa between 1963 and 1990. Forensic pathologists testified that Timol suffered serious injuries to his head and leg that were incompatible with his fall, and that would have made it difficult for him to climb onto the window sill and jump.

Former security policeman Joao Rodrigues, who said he was in the room with Timol when he died, has stood by his story, saying the activist dove out of the window before Rodrigues could stop him.

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