Stanley Widianto and Jessica Damiana, Jakarta – The murder of two Indonesian activists, allegedly ordered by a palm oil businessman, highlights the threats faced by environmentalists, campaigners say.
Martua Parasian Siregar, 55, and Maraden Sianipar, 42, were found dead 10 days ago with multiple stab wounds near a palm plantation in the island of North Sumatra.
Indonesian police have arrested the head of the Amelia palm oil company, who they identified only as "H" or "Harry", on suspicion of having paid several men about $3000 to kill the two activists.
"This strengthens our suspicion that human rights violations in palm oil companies are rampant," said Dana Prima Tarigan, who heads green group the Indonesian Forum for the Environment.
Police said the palm oil concession where the men's bodies were found was closed by the government in 2018 for illegally clearing hectares of forest area.
The two activists had been working with local farmers to gain control of the palm crop there, police said.
"The motive of the incident revolves around a land conflict case," North Sumatra Police Chief Agus Andrianto told reporters, adding that four other suspects had been arrested in the case, with another three still at large.
The murders come weeks after the death of environmental lawyer Golfrid Siregar in North Sumatra. Although police have said his death was a road accident, rights groups say the circumstances were mysterious.
Indonesia and Malaysia produce 85 per cent of global palm oil, a product attracting growing scrutiny for its role in forest loss, fires and worker exploitation.
"Our palm oil industry was, and is, built upon the smeared blood and suffering of residents," Greenpeace campaigner Annisa Rahmawati said when asked about the two activists' murders.