Assailants shot and killed Mara Salem Harahap, editor-in-chief of the local news website Lasser News Today, while he was in his car near his home in the Gunung Maligas district of Pematang Siantar City, in North Sumatra, on June 18, 2021, according to news reports.
In a June 24 news conference, Sumatra Police Chief Inspector-General Panca Putra said that three suspects had been arrested, and identified them as the owner of the local Ferrari Bar and Resto nightclub, whom he identified by the initial “Y,” a worker at the nightclub “S,” and an army official “A,” according to reports.
Major General Hasanuddin, commander of the Bukit Barisan Military Command No. 1, told reporters on July 27 that four military personnel were involved in the killing, according to local reports.
Hasanuddin also alleged that the nightclub owner had given the assailants 15 million rupiah ($1,037) to purchase weapons to kill Harahap. Police recovered one airsoft gun, one pistol, and six bullets as evidence, reports said.
At his news conference, Putra said that Harahap had previously met with the night club owner, who complained about the journalist’s news coverage; he said the motive for the killing was to “teach the victim a lesson.”
Harahap had previously published reports on Lassar News Today alleging that the night club was linked to organized crime, gambling, and drug dealing. Al-Jazeera reported that Harahap also posted about the nightclub on his personal Facebook account; CPJ was unable to find that account.
News reports also alleged that Harahap was involved in an extortion scheme in which he demanded two methamphetamine pills from the night club owner each day. Sasmito Madrim and Irene Wardhanie, two representatives from the local trade group the Alliance of Independent Journalists of Indonesia, told CPJ via email and phone that the organization believed the extortion claims were accurate.
A Jakarta Post report quoted Putra saying that police investigators had questioned 57 witnesses, and that “Y” and “S” were being handled by the Pematang Siantar police while the Bukit Barisan military command was handling the military officials.
Reports said the suspects could be charged under Articles 338 and 340 of the penal code, which cover deliberate killings and respectively allow for prison sentences of up to 15 years and life. Wardhanie told CPJ that authorities were still investigating and had not filed formal charges as of mid-September 2021.
The reports said the four soldier suspects would face a military trial, without giving a date for when the trial would begin.
CPJ emailed the Indonesian army and national police for comment, but did not receive any responses.