Release environmental activists, close down polluting factory

PPR – March 25, 2018
Pembebasan activits Muhammad Hisbun Payu (Koran Pembebasan)

The People’s Liberation Party (PPR), a political organisation fighting for socialism in 21st century, calls for the release of environmental activist Muhammad Hisbun Payu and three others who arrested by police on March 4.

The arrests follow several months of protests by local residents against the factory PT Rayon Utama Makmur (PT RUM) in Sukoharjo, Central Java, over a foul smell emanating from factory waste.

PT RUM is a company established in 2012 to supply rayon fibers to PT. Sri Rejeki Isman (PT Sritex). Sritex itself is a huge textile company that has been operating since 1966 and produces uniforms for the Indonesian military (TNI) and militaries in 30 other countries, including the US and for NATO. In addition to this, Sritex also produces fashion garments for well known brand names such as Zara, Uniqlo and H&M.

PT RUM was established by Sritex to secure the supply of raw materials and multiply its profits. Sritex also obtained 100,000 hectares of forestry concessions for rayon fiber industry plantations in Kalimantan.

Through this expansion huge profits flowed into the pockets of a hand full of Sritex shareholders. Fifty six percent of Sritex’s shares are owned by PT Huddleston Indonesia which is owned by the Lukminto family. PT Huddleston’s offices are located on Jl. Jenderal Sudirman No. 8 in the Senayan area of Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta. In mid-2017, Sritex recorded almost half-a-trillion rupiah in profits in just six months.

It is not surprising then that PT RUM is protected by the state. Sritex’s closeness to the TNI is very evident in Sukoharjo. The factory is guarded by uniformed TNI soldiers and company activities such as free healthcare are also overseen by the TNI.

This is because Sritex has a close business relationship with the TNI and its links with senior TNI officers go as far back as the 1990s.

Local people in Sukoharjo meanwhile are suffering due to the poisonous and foul smelling waste emanating from PT RUM. At least 32 residents are suffering from acute repertory illnesses (ISPA) and 152 others are suffering headaches and dizziness as a result of breathing the excrement smelling fumes from the factory.

A 10-month-old baby suffering heart abnormalities subsequently died because they had to breathe the foul smelling air every day of its life.

The people of Sukoharjo have been forced to breathe the foul smelling fumes which spread as far as 20 kilometers from the factory as far as Wonogiri. The foul smell from PT RUM has polluted the water, air and soil, which will persist for some time.

When local people demanded that PT RUM be closed down in February, an agreement was reached that the factory would be closed for one month in order to resolve the foul smelling waste. As of March however the foul smell persisted and the local regent refused to close down PT RUM and only ordered a temporary closure.

Local people’s anger spilled over on February 23 when they setup a blockade in front of the factory gates. Because the local regent failed to meet with the demonstrators, the protesters began setting fire to tyres. The police and TNI responded by beating and arresting protesters, once again demonstrating their loyalty to the environmentally damaging company.

Angry residents then burn down a security post and a plaque commemorating the establishment of the factory. Police responded by hunting down the alleged perpetrators and arrested three people including student activist Muhammad Hisbun Payu, known to his friends as Is.

When he was arrested, Hisbun was in Jakarta and was planning to report the environmental damage caused by PT RUM to the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM).

It is clear that the state actively collaborates with the interests of capital. The Central Java regional police energetically pursued Hisbun all the way to Jakarta but have allowed PT RUM to continue polluting the environment.

The company’s response to the poisoning of local people has only been to provide compensation in the form of mass treatment of the victims. But when its security post and plaque were destroyed, the response was to arrest environmental activists defending the people and treat them like criminals.

In other words the state considers the security post to be more valuable than the lives of the people poisoned by its waste. And despite clearly poisoning hundreds of local people, the company has not been punished.

The oppression by Sritex and PT RUM against ordinary people who are simply fighting for their rights is a concrete example of how capitalism works. Namely an economic system that does not just appropriate the fruits of workers labour, but one that is protected by the state. Because in reality, the state is a steward for the capitalist class as the class that is in power.

It is this reality that must be faced by the people, that in order to fight such a powerful enemy there is no other way than for the people to organise themselves in a movement that will consistently fight for their interests.

If we fail to do this, then it is quite possible that nature will destroy humanity as occurred in Sidoarjo in the form of the massive Lapindo mud flow disaster. The submerging of Sidoarjo under tons of mud is a small example of the kind of human disaster that results from the uncontrolled drive to exploit natural resources in the interests of the market.

Under the concept of socialism, production is directed towards fulfilling genuine human needs so environmental destruction can be minimalised. Conversely, under capitalism production is for the sake of profit alone without concern for humanity’s needs. Capitalism produces as much as possible for the sake of the largest possible profits without considering the environment. It is in capitalism’s nature to destroy the environment and, in the end, humanity itself.

Because of this therefore, in the interests of their own survival the people must resist. PT RUM must be fought in the interests of our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren and the environment around us. This fight must be organised and launched in order to win the following demands:

  • Release environmental activist Muhammad Hisbun Payu, Kelvin Ferdiansyah Subekti and Sutarno from jail and drop all charges against them.
  • Arrest and jail the owners of PT RUM for the environmental damage and the illness they have caused to the residents of Sukoharjo.
  • Withdraw the TNI from PT RUM and ensure that the TNI and police remain neutral.
  • Investigate the beating and abuses of people protesting PT RUM.

In this struggle, we must organise even larger mobilisations, garner cross-sector and regional solidarity and build a campaign to boycott Sritex products. Let us spread the news that Sritex products are made from the poisoning of the people and the destruction of the environment so that even more people become involved in the struggle.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the statement was Sikap PPR: Bebaskan Muhammad Hisbun Payu dkk, Tutup PT. RUM.]