Suspected murder of Indonesian environmental activist

14 October 2019

IUCN NL is shocked by the death of Golfrid Siregar, who worked for the legal advocacy team of our partner organization WALHI in North Sumatra. Siregar provided legal assistance to local communities ensnared in land conflicts with oil palm companies. His death is the latest in a disturbing pattern of environmental defenders dying under suspicious circumstances in Indonesia.

On October 6, Golfrid Siregar, a member of the legal advocacy of our partner organization WALHI in North Sumatra, passed away from severe injuries to his head. Although preliminary police reports suggest Golfrid Siregar was injured in a motorbike accident or in an attack by bike-riding robbers, fellow activists question this theory. News site Mongabay reports that the evidence, including severe injuries to his head, indicates he was beaten up elsewhere and his body dumped to conceal the crime.

Controversial hydropower project

Siregar provided legal assistance for local communities ensnared in land conflicts with oil palm companies. At the time of his death he was involved in a lawsuit against the North Sumatra government over alleged forgery in the permitting process for a controversial hydropower project that would threaten the only known habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis), a critically endangered species. According to Walhi, Siregar had recently lodged a complaint to the National Police against the North Sumatra Police’s decision to drop the investigation into the alleged forgery.

Disturbing pattern

Golfrid Siregars death is the latest in a disturbing pattern of environmental defenders dying under suspicious circumstances in Indonesia. From 2010 to 2018, there were 171 recorded cases of violence against activists in Indonesia. Most of the victims were environmental activists.

Worldwide problem

Violence against environmental activists is a worldwide problem. In 2018, Global Witness registered 164 deaths with an average of three deaths a week. Still, this is most likely only the tip of the iceberg: many countries provide unreliable information due to corruption.

Most conflicts that involve deaths are related to mining and large-scale agro-industry, such as palm oil and soy. Logging, poaching and hydropower plants are also a source of conflict.

 

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More articles by: Evelien van den Broek