Twenty six farmers have been arrested in connection with violent protests in Palembang, South Sumatra, police confirmed on Wednesday. Police arrested the protesters as they demolished the fences of the South Sumatera regional police (Polda) office building.
During the demonstration, the farmers urged South Sumatera police chief Insp. Gen. Iskandar Hasan to suspend Ogan Ilir police chief Comr. Dheni Darmapala from his position.
“We urge Bapak Kapolda to discharge the Ogan Ilir police chief as he committed a violent crime. He demolished a ‘mushola’ [prayer hall] belonging to people in the area,” said director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI) South Sumatera, Anwar Sadat, who helped the farmers stage the demonstration. He was also arrested by the police.
Initially, the chief communications officer at the South Sumatera police department, Adj. Sr. Comr. Djarot Padakova, met the protesters and promised he would convey their complaints to the South Sumatera police chief. However, the peaceful demonstration quickly turned violent after around 70 protesters involved in the demonstration demolished fences to force their way in to the office to meet the police chief.
The farmers staged the protests after a police officer from the Ogan Ilir regency police department allegedly destroyed a prayer hall built on a plot of land disputed between farmers from Betung, a village in Lubuk Keliat sub-district in Ogan Ilir regency and state-owned plantation company PT Perkebunan Nusantara (PTPN) VII.
Farmers urge the company to return a total 850 hectares of land it has occupied since 1970s.
“The land is ours. We never gave the land to the PTPN VII,” said Sriwijaya farmers union head, Doni. The prayer hall was built on the disputed land as part of efforts to defend them from expulsion. (ebf)