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Jakarta Post

Police have 20 possible suspects in Benjina

  • Fedina S. Sundaryani

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, May 9, 2015   /  09:57 am

The National Police said Friday they would name at least 20 people suspects in the recently exposed case of slavery in Benjina, Maluku.

Head of the human trafficking unit under the police force'€™s detective division, Adj. Sr. Comr. Arie Dharmanto told The Jakarta Post on Friday that most of the suspects were from the fishing firm PT Pusaka Benjina Resources (PBR), a joint venture of Thai and Indonesian companies.

'€œThe potential suspects are also a mix of foreigners and Indonesians. Although we estimate 20 people will be named suspects, there is a chance that more people could be involved,'€ he said.

Arie said that two of the potential Indonesian suspects would be brought to the National Police headquarters in South Jakarta next Monday for questioning before being officially named suspects.

The Benjina case was exposed early last month by foreign media reports of alleged slavery practices on the remote island of Benjina, with PBR, the only official fishing operation on the island, suspected of having tricked hundreds of workers into forced labor.

A government investigation revealed that at least 1,456 crew members, comprising 1,205 foreigners and 251 Indonesians, were forced to work for long hours with no pay.

Although most of the workers possessed Thai documents, many said they hailed from Myanmar and Cambodia.

Based on the testimonies of 54 alleged victims and 10 witnesses, Arie said, around 312 crew members had been locked up in isolation chambers allegedly built in 2012 by PBR.

'€œAccording to the evidence that we have gathered, '€˜problematic'€™ crew members were locked up in the isolation chambers for one week to six months with a limited supply of food and poor sanitation. This punishment could be used to discipline workers who got into fights, who did not work as hard as PBR demanded, got drunk or tried to run away,'€ he said.

Arie said the crew members were put in isolation chambers on the orders of the ships'€™ captains, who had received permission from PBR'€™s quality control.

The lead investigator also acknowledged that the investigation had been slow and cited the lack of certified interpreters as a major obstacle.

'€œApart from that, we are now currently trying to question PBR'€™s Benjina branch management team,'€
he said.

A lack of interpreters was not the only bump in the road. During the investigation, Yoseph Sairlela, the coordinator for supervision at the Dobo Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Agency and a key witness in the case, was found dead in a hotel in Central Jakarta days before he was scheduled to testify. Although initially suspicious, the police had since claimed he died of a heart attack.

Meanwhile, the National Police'€™s detective division chief, Comr. Gen. Budi Waseso, claimed that investigators found evidence of more than just human trafficking and mistreatment.

'€œThere are many issues that are connected with the Benjina case, not just trafficking and assault, but there may be licensing problems too,'€ he said.

Last Friday, the Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) announced that they were currently in the middle of revoking PBR'€™s business license in tandem with the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry'€™s efforts to strip the company of its rights.

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