Investigative reporters who covered land disputes murdered in western Indonesia
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for an independent investigation to identify the perpetrators and instigators of the brutal murders of two journalists who reported allegations of illegal land expropriation by palm oil companies on the island of Sumatra, in western Indonesia.
The bodies of the two reporters, Maraden Sianipar and Maratua Siregar, were found last week with multiple stab wounds near a palm plantation in the “regency” (county) of Labuhan Batu, on Sumatra’s northeast coast. Sianipar’s body was found in a ditch on 30 October. The body of Siregar, also known as Sanjay, was found nearby the next day.
The two reporters first made a name for themselves when they did investigative reporting for the online magazine Pilar Indonesia Merdeka, or Pindo Merdeka (“Pillar of Free Indonesia), which had to close in 2017. Since then, they had been working as freelancers, often covering land disputes between palm oil companies and residents in Panai Hilir, the district where they lived, which is part of Labuhan Batu.
“We call on the Indonesian police and prosecutor’s office to do everything possible to find the perpetrators and instigators of this double murder and, if necessary, to create a special team of investigators,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “The nature of the reporting undertaken by these two journalists in recent years should be the source of a significant body of hypotheses about the identity of those behind their deaths. No lead should be neglected.”
The Jakarta Post newspaper has quoted a friend of the two journalists as saying they had been planning to meet local representatives about 350 hectares of land that is the subject of a dispute. The land is currently an oil palm plantation operated by PT SAB, an Indonesian conglomerate also known as KSU Amalia.
Indonesia is ranked 124th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.