Pontianak Hendra Cipta (contributor), Jakarta – Four unidentified individuals attempted to close down a discussion on endangered Tapanuli orangutans threatened by a hydroelectric dam project in North Sumatra that was being held by the conservation group Satya Bumi and several civil society organisations (CSO) in Tebet, South Jakarta, on Thursday morning, March 9.
Society of Indonesian Environmental Journalists (SIEJ) General Chairperson Joni Aswira said that the four people arrived without warning at the event. Moreover one of them was very angry, snapping at people, and asked that the discussion be closed down.
"The committee managed to calm them down, but the person concerned continued to insist that the discussion not be continued and slammed chairs around emotionally", said Aswira in a press release received by Kompas.com on Thursday afternoon.
Aswira explained that men claimed to be from the Salemba area in Central Jakarta but without explaining which organisation he came from.
The tense situation continued for around 15 minutes, and finally started to subside after the organising committee took them downstairs to hold a dialogue and explain the context of the event.
"The perpetrators did not accept this, and in the end the committee summoned a security officer. As of 12 noon the discussion was still continuing", said Aswira.
Aswira explained that the discussion on the Tapanuli orangutans was in response to a collaborative report by five national media not long ago that took up the threat posed by a hydroelectric power plant (PLTA) in the natural landscape of Batang Toru district of South Tapanuli, North Sumatra.
A number of problems with the project were revealed in the collaborative report. Aside from the threat to the area and the orangutans' habitat, the dam is being built near a tectonic fault line.
"There has already been many incidents of landslide disasters that have killed people, including workers in the area", said Aswira.
In addition to this, the Supreme Audit Agency (BPK) has found a number of irregularities in the dam project, which it is claimed will provide clean energy, that could potentially give rise to state losses.
"The SIEJ or Society of Indonesian Environmental Journalists deplores the attempt to close down the discussion held by Satya Bumi and these CSOs. [It was] a public discussion to respond to a collaborative media report that the SIEJ initiated, it should not have been faced with actions or efforts to close it down", said Aswira.
According to Aswira, discussions represent a dialectic in the democratic world. For those who disagree, they should prioritise a dialogue approach. Because freedom of opinion and expression are protected by the constitution.
"If the closure of discussions is allowed, then this will threaten democracy. The government is obliged to protect the rights of its citizens to express and opinion", Aswira concluded.
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "4 Orang Tak Dikenal Datangi dan Bubarkan Acara Diskusi soal Orangutan di Jakarta".]