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Jakarta Post

More activists protesting air pollution in Sukoharjo arrested

  • Ganug Nugroho Adi

    The Jakarta Post

Sukoharjo, Central Java   /   Wed, March 14, 2018   /   06:49 pm
More activists protesting air pollution in Sukoharjo arrested Students of Kedung Winong Islamic elementary school in Nguter, Sukoharjo, Central Java wear surgical masks during a flag-hoisting ceremony in February. They wore masks on account of strong waste odors allegedly produced by a nearby factory. (JP/Ganug Nugroho Adi)

Four activists and residents, in addition to the three previously, were arrested on Wednesday in Sukoharjo, Central Java, following months of protests against smelly air in the regency allegedly coming from a synthetic fiber factory.

The four residents are accused of hate speech and vandalism. Suspects Bambang Wahyudi and Danang Tri Widodo were brought to National Police headquarters in Jakarta, while Brian and Sukemi were questioned by the Central Java Police. Bambang and Danang are accused of violating the Electronic Information and Transactions Law, while Brian and Sukemi of Article 170 of the Criminal Code on vandalism.

“We have enough evidence to arrest them. We have mapped the actors,” said Sukoharjo Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Iwan Saktiadi on Wednesday.

Iwan said National Police headquarters had investigated the hate speech accusation by monitoring a social media group in which Bambang and Danang are members. Brian and Sukemi were leads from three previous activists questioned for vandalism.

Iwan said they were following up the alleged environmental violation by the factory, PT Rayon Utama Makmur, a subsidiary of large textile company PT Sritex. “It’s not true that we are cherry picking. We handle the report from the residents as well, but we are investigating the asset destruction case too,” he added.

On March 4, the police arrested three people: Muhammad Hisbun Payu, Kelvin Ferdiansyah Subekti and Sutarno.

In response, the Association of Indonesian Advocates (Peradin) in Surakarta, Central Java, prepared 100 lawyers to file both criminal and civil lawsuits against the company over alleged environmental pollution. The lawyers are calling on the police to immediately investigate the pollution, which affects communities living near the textile factory in Sukoharjo regency.

The conflicts between RUM and the residents began in October when RUM opened the factory. At that time, residents in 16 villages in Nguter district reported putrid smell, which got worse in January. Dozens even decided to leave the villages temporarily.

On Feb. 22, thousands of residents protested in front of the Sukoharjo regent's office, demanding that Regent Wardoyo Wijaya halt RUM's operation. Wardoyo promised to issue the decree the following day after consulting with his subordinates. Leaving the regent's office, the residents camped for the night in front of RUM's factory to wait for the decree.

The following morning, residents heard that the regent had flown to Bali to join a national working meeting of his party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). Learning about this, the residents became angry and got out of control and burned things. It was spontaneous, said resident Bambang Wahyudi last week before he got arrested.

Later, a decree to halt RUM's operation was finally issued, ordering RUM to install a continuous emission monitoring system in its chimneys, ensuring emission control, and treating the wastewater before dumping it into Bengawan Solo River.

But hundreds had fallen ill.

Sukoharjo Health Agency head, Nasruddin, said on average 80 residents per day came for a health check at five special health posts in February. The posts were built specially after the smell began. Nasruddin said most patients complained of headaches, nausea and respiratory problems. "All were treated by a medical team, and the Sukoharjo regency administration covered all the costs," he said.

PKU Muhammadiyah Hospital in Sukoharjo said in February respiratory problems topped health complaints recorded in the hospital. From about 300 patients, 35 suffered severe respiratory problems. (evi)