Eco-journalist dies at 30, family needs help

Tommy Apriando, an esteemed investigative journalist and chairperson of the Yogyakarta branch of Indonesia’s Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), died unexpectedly Sunday at the age of 30.

Tommy's young wife Wiwid Ervita and family need help with the cost of bringing his body home for burial and his memorial as well as adjusting to life without him.

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In a country where environmental reporting is potentially deadly, Apriando wasn’t afraid to speak truth to power. He took on politicians who used their connections with oligarchs to enrich themselves, exposed abuses by mining and palm oil companies, and told the complex stories that underpin entrenched land conflicts. While his love of nature revealed itself in his reporting environmental issues, he often put people in the center of his stories, using their experiences as vehicle for illustrating for why we should care. For example, when Apriando told the story of coal mining’s impacts in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province, he focused on the tragic deaths of children who lost their lives  in the murky waters of abandoned mine tailing ponds.

Tommy Apriando was born in April 1989 in Lampung, southern Sumatra, graduating from Universitas Islam Indonesia in Yogyakarta in 2012. He was a reporter with his campus student magazine “Keadilan” (Justice). It was a period when he began to love journalism and become engaged on human rights and environmental issues. He wrote his thesis about controversial military tribunals in Indonesia’s West Papua and Papua provinces.

Upon his graduation, he took a short journalism course in Jakarta and Melbourne, and later joined Mongabay, where he undertook impressive investigative reporting on environmental issues from cement mining on Mount Kendeng in Java to the killing of a farmer in Lumajang, eastern Java, over sand mining operations.

Apriando’s father died shortly after he finished school in Yogyakarta so he regularly returned home to his village in Lampung to help his mother manage their family’s farm, planting stinky beans and black peppers. He was a proud farmer—working the soil reinvigorated his connection to the natural world. But inevitably his journalism would call him back to Yogyakarta, where he often hosted discussions between visiting activists, farmers and environmentalists.

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Apriando won deep respect from his peers for his courageous reporting, which regularly appeared on Mongabay, China Dialogue, The Pangolin Reports, and The Wire. In 2019, he was elected to lead AJI in Yogyakarta, where he was an outspoken advocate for press freedom and the welfare of other journalists.

When Mongabay editor Philip Jacobson was arrested January 21, 2020 for an alleged visa violation, Apriando — despite being hospitalized for complications from diabetes — catalyzed public statements from Indonesian organizations on Jacobson’s behalf. Jacobson’s charges were dismissed January 31, the same day that Apriando fell into a coma. Apriando died early in the morning on February 2 and was buried in his village in Lampung on February 3.

Apriando leaves behind a substantial legacy for someone so young. His investigative exposés forced top Indonesian officials to reckon with abuses in the mining sector, while his reporting on a range of other topics informed hundreds of thousands of people on critical issues facing everyday Indonesians. Apriando also contributed to the documentary film, Sexy Killers, which revealed the mining oligarchy behind the presidential candidates in Indonesia’s most recent election.

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Andreas Harsono, a founder of Pantau Foundation, a non-profit organization that aims to elevate the standard of Indonesian journalism, said Apriando was a dedicated and diligent reporter, whose early death is Indonesia’s loss.

“Tommy’s passion and determination are amazing. He often came to our apartment, chatting about his travel and reporting. I often asked him, ‘Are you not tired?’ Tommy usually responds with a big laugh,” Harsono said.

“His death is a really sad loss for environmental journalism in Indonesia.”

All money raised by this campaign will be collected by Mongabay.org, a U.S. non-profit organization, which will distribute 100% of the funds to Tommy's family in Indonesia. Tommy's colleagues are also organizing a fundraiser within Indonesia to support his family. If you live in Indonesia and would like to support the domestic campaign, please see this link  for more information.

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