Suspected military involvement in journalist’s death in Karo Regency, North Sumatra

On 27 June 2024, a devastating fire destroyed the home of Tribrata TV journalist, Mr Sempurna Pasaribu, in Padang Mas Village, Karo Regency, North Sumatra. The incident, which occurred at approximately 3:30 am, resulted in the deaths of Mr Pasaribu (47), his wife, Mrs Elfrida Ginting (48), their son Sudi Investi Pasaribu (12), and their grandson Loin Situngkir (2). The fire initially raised suspicions, prompting investigations into the possible involvement of military personnel due to Pasaribu’s previous reports on illegal gambling activities allegedly involving Indonesian military (TNI) members.

The Press Council, supported by the North Sumatra Committee for the Safety of Journalists (KKJ), launched an inquiry into the incident. KKJ’s fact-finding team suggested two conflicting versions of events. One theory implicates a rogue TNI officer linked to the gambling reports, while the other attributes the fire to an accidental gasoline spill, as Pasaribu sold retail gasoline from his home.

In response to the gravity of the situation, the Press Council called for an impartial investigation led by National Police Chief General Listyo Sigit Prabowo and North Sumatra Police Chief Inspector General Whisnu Hermawan Februananto. They also urged TNI commanders to establish a transparent and unbiased investigative team. Press Council member Totok Suryanto emphasised the need for a thorough examination to ensure justice for the victims and uphold press freedom, as enshrined in Law Number 40/1999 on the Press.

Major General Nugraha Gumilar of the TNI’s Cilangkap Headquarters confirmed that an internal investigation was underway, stressing the importance of waiting for conclusive results before drawing any assumptions. Gumilar acknowledged the ongoing processes and assured cooperation with other investigating bodies.

On 8 July 2024, the police identified two suspects in the arson case, although the motive behind the attack remains unclear. The KKJ expressed frustration over the lack of clarity regarding the suspects’ intentions, highlighting the importance of understanding the context to comprehensively address the case. KKJ Coordinator Erick Tanjung urged the police to use Pasaribu’s investigative reports on TNI-related gambling activities as supporting evidence.

The North Sumatra Police Chief, Commissioner General Agung Setya Effendi, confirmed that the house was deliberately set on fire, citing CCTV footage showing the suspects conducting reconnaissance and subsequently igniting the blaze using diesel and gasoline. The suspects, referred to as R and Y, were seen spraying flammable liquid on the house before setting it on fire. This evidence was corroborated by a local gasoline seller who identified the suspects as recent customers.

The incident has drawn significant attention to the risks faced by journalists in Indonesia, particularly those exposing corruption and illegal activities. The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) reported at least 29 cases of violence against journalists in the first half of 2024, underscoring a persistent pattern of threats and physical attacks.

Legal Aid Institute (LBH) Medan, representing Pasaribu’s family, suspects that crucial details of the investigation are being concealed, potentially to protect higher-ranking individuals involved in the gambling operations. LBH Medan’s Director, Irvan Saputra, called for a comprehensive probe to uncover the true masterminds behind the attack.

The deaths of Sempurna Pasaribu and his family highlight the urgent need for stronger protections for journalists and greater accountability for those who threaten press freedom and the rule of law in Indonesia.

Detailed Case Data
name of the location: Jalan Nabung Surbakti Ujung (3.097307054211735, 98.49681996080216)
administrative region: Indonesia, North Sumatra Province, Karo Regency, Mas Village
total number of victims: four
period of incident: 27.06.2024
perpetrator: other security forces
perpetrator details: unknown
Issues: freedom of expression, extra-judicial killings, journalists
Further HRM News:

NumberName, DetailsGenderAgeGroup AffiliationViolations
1Sempurna Pasaribu male47journalistexecution
1Elfrida Ginting female48unknown execution
1Sudi Investi Pasaribumale12unknownexecution
1Loin Situngkir male2unknown execution