President Widodo urged to stop police using violence in agrarian conflicts

CNN Indonesia – April 9, 2020
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Jakarta – The Human Rights Defenders Coalition is urging President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to immediately order Indonesian police chief (Kapolri) General Idham Azis to put an end to violence by officers against environmental activists during the corona virus pandemic.

Based on their records, since the Covid-19 pandemic national emergency was declared in March there has been intimidation, arrests and killings of local people fighting for their land and livelihoods.

“President Jokowi [must] order the Kapolri to stop violence against people fighting for their rights and sources of living”, Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) Food, Water and Essential Ecosystems Campaign Manager Wahyu A Perdana told CNN Indonesia on Wednesday April 8.

The Coalition has recorded at least five cases involving arrests, violence, killings and other forms of intimidation.

First, the criminalisation of the Penyang and Tanah Putih village communities in Central Kalimantan. This incident occurred on March 7 at 2.30 am when scores of police entered a Walhi mess and arrested three people named James Watt, Untung and Dedi Sasanto.

The Coalition suspects the arrests were part of a plot by the plantation company PT Hamparan Masawit Bangun Persada (HMBP) to stop resistance by local people.

“Conflicts between local people and the company have been taking place since 2006. The company seized 117 hectares of residents’ land. The land is located outside of the company’s HGU [business permit] area”, said Perdana.

The second case relates to the killing of two farmers in Lahat regency in South Sumatra. The case began when the company PT AP bought 180.36 hectares of land for 25 million rupiah. The Coalition claims that the land transfer was carried out by force with assistance from security personnel between 1993 and 2003.

Poverty and other difficulties created awareness among local people who then tried to take back their land. On March 21, two farmers from Pagar Batu Village in Pulau Pinang sub-district, Lahat regency, named Suryadi (40) and Putra Bakti (35), were allegedly murdered by PT AP security personnel.

Two other local people, Sumarlin (38) and Lionagustin (35) also suffered injuries.

“During the killings, the police were at the location but did not take any measures to protect residents. The police at the location instead stood among the ranks of company security”, said Perdana.

The third case involved the forced closure of a campaign tent in Tumpangpitu, Banyuwangi, East Java. On March 27 police intimidated and then forcibly broke up a peaceful action by Tumpangpitu farmers who were opposing extensions to a mining area belonging to PT Bumi Suksesindo (BSI). As a result several local people suffered serious head injuries.

Following this there was a case involving the destruction of rice storage huts in Sedang Village, Suak Tapeh sub-district, Banyuasin regency, South Sumatra. On April 2, officials from the plantation company PT MAR arrived on land belonging to the Mafan Farmers Group.

Scores of company officials accompanied by police wanted to demolish farmers’ huts on land which it is suspected was to be turned into a palm oil plantation. The farmers, who were ready to harvest the rice crop, tried to block the company officials who wanted to demolish their huts.

“The company failed to heed [the farmers’ pleas] and forcibly demolished the huts. Three rice storage huts were destroyed in all”, added Perdana.

The last case relates to the burning down of a mangrove garden by people who held a social forestry license in North Sumatra. It is suspected that the incident, which occurred on Thursday March 26, was committed by workers from a palm oil company.

The Coalition said they deplored the incident because based on decree by the Environment and Forestry Ministry, the Nipah Farmers Group in Kwala Serapuh village, Tanjung Pura sub-district, Langkat regency, had obtained a self-management (swakelola) permit for a forest production area of 242 hectares in a mangrove ecosystem.

“The odd thing was that having a legal permit did not mean that they received protection”, he said.

Based on these incidents, Perdana said that the Coalition is calling on Indonesian police chief General Idham Azis to firmly punish police officers involved in violence against local people.

In addition to this, the Coalition is asking the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM), the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), the Witness and Victim Protection Agency (LPSK) and the Ombudsman to carry out their obligations and mandate to monitor cases of violence against human rights defenders.

“The government [should] not carry out evictions and relocations of communities in the name of investment or in the name of the Covid-19 emergency, so that it doesn’t worsen communities social, economic and psychological situation, particularly women who suffer multiple burdens during this Covid-19 crisis”, read one of the points in the Coalition’s official press release.

The Human Rights Defenders Coalition is made up of Walhi, the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI), Amnesty International Indonesia (AII), the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) and several other civil society organisations. (ryn/kid)

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was “Jokowi Didesak Tegur Kapolri Stop Sudutkan Pejuang Lingkungan”.]