Police in Indonesia’s North Sumatra province on Friday arrested a man they allege commissioned the killings of two activists who were involved in a land dispute between residents and palm oil companies.
Maraden Sianipar, 55, and Maratua Siregar, 48 – who both worked as freelance journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders– were found dead last week after being stabbed near a palm oil plantation in Labuhanbatu regency.
The man allegedly ordered the killings to stop the activists advocating for residents whom he had accused of encroaching on a palm oil plantation, police said.
“Because he often had quarrels with farmers from the Maraden Sianipar group, [the man] ordered the executions,” North Sumatra police chief Agus Andrianto told reporters.
BenarNews is withholding the identity of the man who is linked to a palm oil company because he or a lawyer representing him could not be reached to respond to the police’s allegations.
Agus said police arrested four suspects earlier this week while three others remained at large. The suspects could face the death penalty if convicted of premeditated murder.
On Tuesday, police announced the arrests of the first two suspects, whom the authorities identified by their initials V.S. and S.H. They were taken into custody that morning from their homes in Labuhanbatu regency near the plantation.
“According to the suspects, they killed the two victims in revenge linked to palm oil plantation land,” local police Chief Agus Darojat said in a statement at the time without elaborating.
Two more suspects were arrested Wednesday night.
Independent investigation sought
Press advocacy groups have called for an independent investigation into the killings of Maraden and Maratua, noting they worked as freelance journalists covering land disputes between palm oil companies and residents in Panai Hilir district in Labuhanbatu.
Previously, the pair worked for Pindo Merdeka, an online news magazine that closed in 2017, according to the Alliance of Independent Journalists and their former employer.
Pindo Merdeka owner Paruhum Daulay has told a local website that Maratua, also known as Sanjay, founded an advocacy group called Gapotsu. The group advocates for residents involved in disputes with plantation companies.
Maraden ran unsuccessfully for the Labuhanbatu council as a National Democratic Party candidate in this year’s legislative elections.
In a separate case last month, lawyer Golfrid Siregar, who worked for the environmental advocacy group Walhi, was found unconscious in the provincial capital Medan and died in a hospital three days later.
Police ruled his death as accidental, saying he had crashed his motorcycle after drinking beer.
Fellow activists questioned the finding, saying his death may have been linked to his human rights and environmental work.