Apriadi Gunawan, Medan – The Journalist Safety Committee has said that the murders of Maratua Siregar and Maraden Sianipar in Labuhan Batu, North Sumatra, suspected to be related to palm oil, did not constitute violence against journalists because neither of the victims were journalists at that time.
Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Medan head and committee member Liston Damanik said that based on interviews with the victims' families and colleagues, Maraden was an entrepreneur and Maratua worked for him. Maratua had also been active in civil society organizations after leaving local weekly newspaper Pindo Merdeka.
"As an entrepreneur, Maraden has a sizeable oil palm plantation in Labuhan Batu. He hired Maratua as an employee to collect money from the people harvesting the oil palm on his plantation," Liston told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
He added that Maratua had left Pindo Merdeka in 2017 after working there for a year.
"Maratua quit being a journalist at Pindo Merdeka of his own will," Liston said, adding that the newspaper had offered Maratua a contract extension which was rejected.
After leaving the newspaper, Maratua had been active in civil society organizations relating to palm oil activism. Liston said that several of Maratua's colleagues said that at times Maratua claimed to be a journalist while conducting his activism work.
"The issue is if it is true that [Maratua] was a journalist, we did not find any trace of his writing since he quit Pindo Merdeka. That is what makes us wary of calling him journalist," Liston said.
Maraden, on the other hand, had no history of work in journalism and was an entrepreneur who had run in the 2019 legislative elections.
"The conclusion from the Journalism Safety Committee is that both victims were not working as journalists when they were murdered," Liston said.
The committee conducted a verification process into the matter after the two victims were widely reported in the media as activists and freelance journalists at the time of the murders.
Liston added, however, that the committee nevertheless urged the police to resolve the case and try the perpetrators according to prevailing law.
Maraden and Maratua were found dead with stab wounds all over their bodies in a ditch near an oil palm plantation run by PT Sei Alih Berombang (SAB), also known as the multibusiness cooperative (KSU) Amelia, in Wonosari village on Oct. 30.
The North Sumatra police have arrested five people in connection with the deaths, including the plantation owner, Wibharry Padmoasmolo, who is suspected of ordering his employees to murder the victims.
North Sumatra police chief Insp. Gen. Agus Andrianto said police were still looking for three other people suspected to be involved in the murders, named Joshua Situmorang, Rikky and Hendrik Simorangkir.
Agus said the case was triggered by a dispute between SAB and its tenants, some of whom were affiliated with Maraden.
Agus said Wibharry allegedly paid Joshua Situmorang, who is still at large, Rp 15 million to kill a tenant named Ranjo Siallagan. Agus said that Ranjo survived the attempt.
He added that afterward, Wibharry allegedly ordered Janti Katimin Hutahaen, who has been arrested, to kill Maraden. (kmt)