Indonesian Journalists Critical of Illegal Palm Plantation Found Dead
By Ayat S. Karokaro and adapted by Basten Gokkon
Two Indonesian journalists who had reported on an illegal oil palm plantation in Sumatra while also allegedly trying to gain control of the crop have been found dead at the plantation.
The body of Maraden Sianipar, 55, was found on Oct. 30 in a ditch in the concession of palm grower PT Sei Alih Berombang (SAB). The body of Martua Siregar, 42, was found the next day in the bushes near a warehouse at the same site. Both men worked for a weekly publication, Pindo Merdeka, based in Medan, the capital of North Sumatra province.
Local media reported that Maraden had been found with his left arm hacked off and wounds to his head, while Martua appeared to have stab wounds in his abdomen, back and head.
Police have launched an investigation into the case amid mounting calls from Indonesian press groups condemning the deaths and demanding that the perpetrators be brought to justice. But it's not clear whether they were killed because of their critical reporting on SAB, whose concession was sealed off by authorities a year ago after it was found to have cleared 750 hectares of forest to plant oil palms.
Witnesses said the pair were also known to be part of a community group that had for years been locked in a dispute with the plantation company and had sought to take control of the oil palms once the local forestry office had ruled that the company's expansion onto forested land was illegal.
Other witnesses said Maraden and Martua had gone by motorbike to the plantation on Oct. 29 with a group of locals seeking to harvest the palm fruit. One witness said he had warned Maraden that plantation guards armed with machetes were guarding a checkpoint in anticipation of the group.
"We have questioned eight witnesses, and we're collecting as much evidence [as possible] to solve the deaths of the two victims," Budiarto, a local police chief, told reporters on Nov. 2.
An oil palm worker harvesting palm fruit at a plantation in North Sumatra. Nanang Sujana for RAN / Oppuk
Locals reported that violent conflicts were common between the plantation's security guards and people trying to take the palm fruit. The latter, who say they have just as much claim to the illegally cultivated crop as SAB, have sought assistance from environmental groups, including the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), to resolve the land dispute that has simmered since 2015.
"We suspect the deaths [of the two] to be unusual," said Khairul Buchori, who heads the advocacy and legal department at Walhi's North Sumatra chapter.
Maraden and Martua's deaths come less than a month after the suspicious death of Walhi environmental activist Golfrid Siregar, also in North Sumatra. He was found unconscious with severe head injuries on a traffic overpass in Medan, and died in hospital three days later, on Oct. 6, without ever regaining consciousness.
Golfrid was best known for his legal advocacy work for local communities ensnared in land conflicts with oil palm companies. At the time of his death he was also involved in a lawsuit against the North Sumatra government over alleged forgery in the permitting process for a controversial hydropower project in an orangutan habitat.
Police, however, ruled Golfrid's death the result of a drunken-driving crash. But his former colleagues dispute that claim, pointing to several holes in the evidence cited by police, including independent testimony from his family that he wasn't a drinker.
While the motives behind each of the recent deaths remain unclear for now, press and environmental activists agree that they ring alarm bells about the state of the free press and activism in the country.
The number of reported cases of violence against journalists rose to 64 in 2018 from 60 in 2017, according to the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI). The group says the main perpetrators of abuse against journalists are companies and the state.
There were also 171 recorded cases of violence against activists in Indonesia between 2010 and 2018, according to the Indonesian Human Protection Foundation (YPII), with most of the victims environmental activists.
Walhi's Khairul called for the National Police to take over the North Sumatra police's investigations into the recent deaths, saying the latter had "failed to resolve" these cases.
Golfrid Siregar, left, protests against the proposed Batang Toru hydropower project, which threatens the only known habitat of the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan. Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi)
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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