Amnesty condemns use of teargas, violence against people defending their homes

Source – September 8, 2023
Rempang Island residents face off against police and TNI – September 7, 2023 (screenshot)

Jawahir Gustav Rizal – Amnesty International Indonesia has condemned the violence by security forces against residents of Rempang and Galang Islands near Riau Island.

The clash between police and residents occurred on Thursday September 7 when officials wanted to conduct land measurements for the Rempang Eco City project. As a result of the clash, a number of local people were arrested and students at two schools were affected by teargas fired by police.

The Rempang Eco City project is one of the government's National Strategic Projects (PSN) but has been opposed by local people.

Amnesty International Indonesia Executive Director Usman Hamid said that the development of PSNs cannot be done using force against local communities.

"Police responded to local people's protests by means of arrests and the use of excessive force such as batons and teargas which not only endangered adults but also school children who were taking part in learning activities in their classes", said Hamid in a press release on Friday September 8.

The clash occurred after hundreds of residents blocked the arrival of a joint force of police from Batam at the Barelang Bridge connecting the islands of Rempang, Galang and Batam.

Around 1,000 joint police units and scores of armoured vehicles pushed forward in the direction of the protesting residents. The residents then began throwing rocks at police who responded by firing water cannon and tear gas.

However the teargas was not just fired in the direction of the protesting residents, but also towards a school near the clash.

According to Hamid, the violence by the police was excessive and demeaned the dignity and rights of human beings as recognised by international and national law.

The action violated the residents' right to peacefully convey their views, the right to live without fear and the right to social welfare. In addition to this, said Hamid, the violence also damaged public trust in law enforcement institutions and the government.

"We demand that the Kapolri [national police chief] stop the use of violence that is illegitimate and violates the rights of the Rempang and Galang Islands. The Kapolri must immediately release the arrested residents and bring those that committed intimidation and violence against residents before the law", said Hamid.

Hamid is also urging the state authorities to prioritise meaningful consultation with local people in order to reach a just and sustainable solution.

"The state must reevaluate planned national strategic projects, not just on the islands of Rempang and Galang, but also at Nagari Air Bangis in West Sumatra, then Wadas in Central Java and other places that have provoked conflicts with local communities", he said.

School children tear gassed

As reported by, one of the Rempang Island residents, Sri Rusmiati (52), said that police fired teargas at a school during the clash.

"I shouted and cried when I saw police firing teargas at the school. My heart was filled with confusion when I saw the children sick from being hit by teargas", said Rusmiati.

The schools that were hit by teargas were the Galang State Junior High Scholl (SMPN) 22 and the Galang State Primary School 24. The students from the two schools scattered into the forests behind the school after their classrooms filled with teargas.

SMPN 22 Galang school principle Muhammad Nizab said that a number of teargas projectiles fell only a few meters from the school gates. As a result, the teargas quickly filled the classrooms which at the time were full of students.

"There were scores of students who fainted because of the teargas. Several of them also suffered leg and foot injuries as a result of running through the scrub in the forest", said Nazib.

The clash on Thursday occurred in the aftermath of an agrarian conflict on Rempang Island. The conflict began when the Batam and Free Port Authority or BP Batam announced plans to relocate the entire population of Rempang Island or around 7,500 residents.

The relocation is being done to make way for a planned investment project on Rempang Island. The island will be developed into an industrial, tourism and residential area named the Rempang Eco City.

The project is being developed by PT Makmur Elok Graha, which is a subsidiary of PT Artha Graha owned by business tycoon Tommy Winata.

Rempang Island social figure Gerisman Ahmad says that there are 16 ancient villages or traditional dwelling areas occupied indigenous islanders from the Malayu, Sea People and Land People ethnic groups.

They have resided on Rempang Island since at least 1834 but are threatened with eviction to make way for the project.

Yet according to Gerisman, the project should be able to be developed without evicting people from traditional residential areas because the 16 villages on Rempang Island only cover 17,000 hectares or 10 percent of the total land area of the island.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Amnesty Kecam Kekerasan Aparat terhadap Warga Pulau Rempang".]