(Jakarta) – Indonesian authorities should immediately and impartially investigate the death of an environmental lawyer, Golfrid Siregar, in Medan, North Sumatra, Human Rights Watch said today.
After midnight on October 3, 2019, a pedicab driver found Siregar unconscious and seriously injured on a street in Medan, the provincial capital, and took him to a local hospital. He never regained consciousness and died on October 6. He had suffered multiple injuries and his wallet and other personal effects were missing.
“Golfrid Siregar was an environmental lawyer and grassroots activist who had dedicated his life to protecting Sumatra’s rainforests and helping villagers protect their land,” said Andreas Harsono, senior Indonesia researcher. “His death under suspicious circumstances demands a prompt, thorough investigation of all those implicated.”
Siregar, 34, represented the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia, or Walhi), Indonesia’s largest environmental group, in a lawsuit against North Sumatra’s governor over his 2017 approval for the construction of the US$1.5 billion Batang Toru hydroelectric dam. Walhi had argued that the permit issuance process was problematic and was appealing two earlier court verdicts they had lost. He had also sought legal action against the police in a related matter for their alleged failure to adequately respond to a complaint.
On the evening of October 2, Siregar had visited his uncle’s house in Medan, playing board games and having tea, his relatives said. He left by motorcycle at about 11 p.m. to return home. The hospital CCTV shows the pedicab driver who brought Siregar’s unconscious body into the hospital at 1:12 a.m. on October 3. The driver and two people who accompanied him left two minutes later, the police said.
The police later reported that Siregar’s laptop, wallet, ID card, cell phone, and wedding ring were missing, making it more difficult to locate his family. Walhi’s North Sumatra director told the media that Siregar had serious head injuries, swelling in the right eye, and a blue mark, probably internal bruising, on his left hand.
At 11 a.m. on October 3, after locating his motorcycle, the hospital, with police assistance, called Siregar’s family. Surgeons operated later that day and removed a portion of his skull to relieve pressure on the brain.
He died on October 6, leaving his wife, Resmi Barimbing, and their baby daughter, Velycia.
The local police precinct initially claimed that Siregar was injured in a traffic accident. But his family and Walhi have raised concerns that Siregar was murdered: his motorcycle was not damaged and did not have any asphalt marks. His legs and hands did not have any cuts or wounds typical in traffic accidents. His uncle said Siregar only drank “bottled tea” that evening.
North Sumatra police told journalists they are now conducting an autopsy. On October 10, the police arrested the pedicab driver and the other two men for robbery, for allegedly taking Siregar’s possessions after the traffic accident.
Walhi colleagues said that Siregar had received several threats since they had filed the lawsuit against the Batang Toru dam construction in August 2018 although the threats had probably stopped over the last four to six weeks. Siregar was also taking part in a legal case concerning an alleged forged signature in the Batang Toru dam’s environmental assessment report. He was also involved in other controversial North Sumatra litigation, defending villagers against a concrete company in Siantar, helping villagers in Karo regency over illegal logging, and assisting fishermen in Pantau Labu contesting a sand company.
“The nature of Siregar’s death and the threats he received raise numerous alarm bells,” Harsono said. “All those concerned about Indonesia’s environment will be watching the authorities to ensure that a credible investigation occurs and that any crime associated with his death is appropriately prosecuted.”