Activist staging a protest against a palm oil company in Indonesia. Photo: Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay

By Hans Nicholas Jong
21 June 2018

JAKARTA (Mongabay) – Indonesia’s national commission on human rights has vowed to investigate the death of a journalist who was being held on charges of defaming a palm oil company owned by a powerful tycoon.

From November 2017 to March of this year, Muhammad Yusuf wrote at least 23 articles for the news portals Kemajuan Rakyat and Berantas News about a land conflict involving PT Multi Sarana Agro Mandiri (MSAM). The company holds the rights to develop a massive oil palm plantation in Pulau Laut, a small island off the coast of South Kalimantan province, in Indonesian Borneo. It is owned by tycoon Andi Syamsudin Arsyad, popularly known as Haji Isam.

Parts of MSAM’s concession are claimed by several other firms as well as by local farmers who accuse the company of bulldozing their crops to make way for its plantation. Yusuf covered this dispute. After MSAM reported him to the police, he was arrested on charges of hate speech and defamation, for which he faced up to six years in prison and a 1 billion rupiah ($72,000) fine if convicted.

Yusuf spent more than five weeks in police detention, before he was transferred to the custody of the Kotabaru district attorney’s office in early May to await trial, which began two weeks later, according to local media.

On the morning of 10 June 2018, Yusuf was taken to a local hospital after complaining of breathing difficulties and chest pain.

He died 30 minutes after arriving at the hospital. He was 42, and leaves behind a wife and two children. [more]

Indonesia to investigate death of journalist being held for defaming palm oil company

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