A woman walks past the offices of the Medan Legal Aid Institute in North Sumatra. The offices were attacked with a petrol bomb on Oct. 19, sparking fears among activists investigating the death of an environmental lawyer earlier this month. (Photo supplied)
Campaigners seeking a probe into the alleged murder of an environmental activist in Indonesia’s North Sumatra province say they fear for their safety following a petrol bomb attack against them.
The Oct. 19 attack on the offices of the Legal Aid Institute in Medan came amid efforts by the institute and other organizations to investigate the death of Golfrid Siregar, an environmental activist and lawyer from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment who was allegedly murdered earlier this month.
Siregar died in hospital on Oct. 6, two days after being found badly injured in a Medan street.
Police initially thought he was injured in a traffic accident, but colleagues and family believe he was savagely beaten for opposing a power plant project in the area and have set up their own investigation team to look into his death.
Fellow activists say the petrol bomb attack, which only caused minor damage, served to strengthen their suspicions, although other motives could not be ruled out.
It was also an “alarm call for us to be more vigilant,” said Ismail Lubis, director of the Medan Legal Aid Institute.
The office, he said, is a well-known place where people meet and discuss efforts to help people, especially the marginalized.
He said threatening phone calls had been made to the office in recent weeks prior to the attack.
Medan police spokesman Eko Hartanto said an investigation had been launched and that CCTV footage suggested that two people using motorbikes were involved.
"The motive is still unknown, but sooner or later, this case will be solved," he said.
Muhammad Isnur from the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation response was pessimistic, saying many attacks on activists have gone unsolved.
“They must be able to ensure that cases like this are solved because it is a test of their commitment to democracy and human rights,” he said.
Father Yohanes Kristoforus Tara of the Franciscans’ Commission for Justice and Peace and the Integrity of Creation condemned the attack.
"Activists are always at the forefront of the fight for justice and peace, especially for helpless people. Attacks on them are bad news for people who seek justice," he said.
The priest called on such activists not to give up their fight. "They shouldn’t be afraid of such intimidation because if that happens, it will only encourage similar if not worse attacks in the future," he said.