Jakarta – North Sumatra Police say they are on a manhunt for three fugitives who are part of a conspiracy linked to a palm oil company to murder two journalists in Labuhan Batu, a district in North Sumatra.
The bodies of journalists and activists Maraden Sianipar and Martua P. Siregar were found with bruises and multiple stab wounds in a ditch in the grounds of Amelia, the palm oil company.
Maraden and Martua had been vocal in advocating for their communities during a land conflict against the palm oil company.
The police said on Sunday they had arrested five out of the eight people involved in the murder conspiracy, including 40-year-old Harry Padmoasmolo, the director of Amelia, for allegedly ordering the hit.
"I'm asking the families of the murderers still on the run to hand them over to the police. If they surrender themselves, they'll be treated more leniently. Strict action will be implemented if they don't surrender," North Sumatra Police Chief Insp. Gen. Agus Andrianto said.
Harry allegedly promised to pay Janti Katimin Hutahaean, Amelia's public relations officer, Rp 40 million ($2,900) to murder Maraden and Martua. Janti then allegedly asked six other Amelia employees to help him carry out the hit.
The police said Maraden and Martua visited the Amelia plant on Oct. 29 and were confronted by four of the company's employees, who were carrying batons and machetes. A fight broke out which ended in the deaths of the two victims.
The police said Janti had already been paid his Rp 40 million – taken from Amelia's treasury – that he divided up with the other attackers.
A day later, a friend of Maraden, Burhan Nasution, reported to the police that his friend had been missing along with his motorcycle that Maraden borrowed.
"We began our investigation by tracing the victims' journey. Then we found Maraden's lifeless body in a ditch," Agus said. Martua's body, which showed numerous stab wounds, was found close by.
The police said Amelia had been planting oil palm trees on government-owned land. Last year, the government confiscated the land from the company and the local communities started cultivating the land.
The company has been resisting the government's takeover and has repeatedly thwarted the locals' effort – including by Maraden and Martua – to use the land.
Harry has denied ordering the murder hit or handing over Rp 40 million to Janti. He said he did not plan the murder and never knew the two victims.