Jakarta – Two journalists who mediated a protracted land dispute between local residents and an oil palm plantation were found dead in Labuhan Batu regency, North Sumatra, their bodies riddled with stab wounds.
The victims, Maraden Sianipar and Maratua P. Siregar, worked for Pilar Indonesia Merdeka (Pindo Merdeka), a Medan-based weekly and online news portal that closed down in 2017.
But the two were better known for their activism and mediating a land dispute between residents and oil palm plantation PT Sei Alih Berombang, also known as the multi-business cooperative (KSU) Amalia.
The remains of Maraden were found last Wednesday (Oct 30) in a ditch near KSU Amelia's compound in Wonosari village, Panai Hilir district, Labuhan Batu regency. A day later, the body of Maratua – better known as Sanjay – was discovered in the same area.
Panai Hilir Police subprecinct head Adj Comr Budiarto said investigators indicated that the journalists' deaths were related to their activism. "(Sanjay) often advocated for the people, " he said, adding that the police had summoned six witnesses in the case.
Meanwhile, Labuhan Batu Police chief Adj Sr Comr Agus Darojat said there was still no strong evidence connecting the homicides to the land dispute.
Sanjay's friend Johan said the victim was an active member of human rights groups, namely Motherland Defenders and Alliance of Indonesia's Saviours.
Prior to his death, Sanjay was advocating for Panai Hilir residents involved in a dispute over an oil palm concession formerly under the control of KSU Amelia.
"The victim had fought for the land with Panai Hilir residents for nearly 10 years. This year, the government took over 350ha of land formerly managed by PT KSU Amalia, " Johan said.
The land has stood neglected since the transfer of ownership, making it vulnerable to theft.
Johan said before they were found dead, Sanjay and Maraden were planning to meet with local officials to convince them to allow farmers to use the land.
The Indonesian Journalists Association (PWI) and the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) condemned the alleged murder and urged the police to thoroughly investigate the case.
"The police should give special attention to the case. They could deploy a special investigation team if needed, " said Hermansyah, head of PWI's North Sumatra chapter.
Eka Azwin Lubis from AJI Medan said the abuse against journalists in North Sumatra was "alarming".
From January to March alone, eight reporters were reportedly verbally and physically assaulted by government officials and security forces, among others.
– The Jakarta Post/ANN