Human Rights Watch: Indonesia must probe environmentalist’s ‘suspicious’ death

Golfrid on the left, photo via Walhi Sumut
Golfrid on the left, photo via Walhi Sumut

The death of an Indonesian activist leading a lawsuit to block a Chinese-funded hydroelectric dam has raised “numerous alarm bells” and should be investigated, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Friday.

Golfrid Siregar, 34, a lawyer and activist at the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), was found injured and unconscious on a street in Sumatra’s Medan city last week. He died several days later.

Authorities initially said his wounds resulted from a traffic accident. They later charged three men with robbery for stealing Siregar’s wallet, mobile phone and other personal effects.

But HRW and Wahli questioned the explanation for Siregar’s death, saying he suffered severe head wounds but no cuts or other injuries on his body consistent with crashing his motorcycle, which wasn’t damaged.

Siregar had also been threatened in relation to his work, including a legal challenge to stop construction of the $1.5 billion dam project in Batang Toru rainforest — part of China’s globe-spanning Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure blitz.

“The nature of Siregar’s death and the threats he received raise numerous alarm bells,” said Andreas Harsono, senior Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“His death under suspicious circumstances demands a prompt, thorough investigation of all those implicated,” he added.

Critics say the dam — scheduled to be completed in 2022 — would be bad for the environment and local communities, and threaten the habitat of one of the world’s rarest orangutan species.

PT North Sumatra Hydro Energy, which is building the dam with Chinese bank financing, “expressed our condolences” over Siregar’s death, but urged against drawing conclusions before an investigation is done.

“We ask all parties not to speculate and associate PT NSHE (either directly or indirectly) with the death of Golfrid Siregar…until there is an investigation or an official statement from” authorities, spokesman Firman Taufik said in a statement.

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