Golfrid Siregar was a member of the legal advocacy team for the North Sumatra chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), the country’s biggest green NGO. He died on 6 October 2019, in a hospital in Medan, the North Sumatra provincial capital, three days after being found unconscious near his motorcycle on a traffic overpass in the city.
Police launched an investigation, and on Oct. 11 announced their findings. They said Golfrid had been drinking and died in a motorcycle crash. They ruled out the involvement of any other party in his death. With that, the police ended their investigation, despite mounting calls from human rights activists for a thorough and transparent investigation into the suspicious circumstances surrounding Golfrid’s death.
The evidence police cited for the conclusion they reached included injuries that they said were consistent with a high-speed impact against the curb. They also said a liquid sample taken from Golfrid’s stomach three days after his death revealed traces of alcohol. Police said one of the nurses who first treated him when he was brought to hospital reported that his breath smelled of alcohol.
According to police, two of Golfrid’s friends also said he had been drinking beer at a roadside kiosk on the evening of 2 October, before leaving on his motorbike.
But the family and others have questioned that version of events. Walhi says Golfrid’s family denied he was a drinker. The owner of the kiosk where he was last seen with his friends said they hadn’t drunk any alcohol that night, only coffee and tea. Walhi also said the nurse quoted by police denied smelling any alcohol on his person.
Roy Lumbangaol, Golfrid’s manager and the head of advocacy for Walhi North Sumatra, said the police report was a scheme to paint Golfrid as a drunk who had crashed his bike. The organisation maintains Golfrid was killed elsewhere and his body and bike dumped on the overpass to conceal the truth. He also pointed to hospital tests showing extensive skull fractures that couldn’t have occurred from a motorbike crash.
Suspicion is rife that Golfrid was murdered in connection with his work. He had received multiple death threats over his activism, which included campaigns against oil palm plantations and sand mines. The threats ramped up after he worked on a lawsuit against the North Sumatra government over the alleged forgery of a researcher’s signature in an environmental impact assessment for a proposed hydropower project.
Activists say the planned dam would threaten the only known habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis), a critically endangered species.
Just before his death, Golfrid had lodged a complaint with the National Police in Jakarta against the North Sumatra Police’s decision to drop the investigation into the alleged forgery.