The Jakarta Post
Human rights watchdogs demand that the government immediately release Sawin and Sukma, two environmentalists from Indramayu, West Java, who were arrested on Sept. 24 following state defamation charges.
Sawin and Sukma are farmers who live in Mekarsari village in Patrol district, Indramayu. Both of them have been persistent in voicing their rejection of the Indramayu 2 coal-fired power plant in their village.
The village residents have been refusing the construction plan, which is funded by a loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, and have filed a lawsuit against it.
On Aug. 2, 2017, the residents attended the first hearing of the case in the Bandung State Administrative Court. In a hearing on Dec. 6, the panel of judges ruled in favor of them and revoked the construction permit.
Sawin, Sukma and another farmer, Nanto, were arrested a week after the verdict.
The head of the Bandung Legal Aid Institute (LBH Bandung), Willy Hanafi, who assisted Sawin and Sukma in the case, said Sawin and Sukma were accused of raising an inverted national flag, which is against Indonesian law.
“On Dec. 14, the villagers organized a feast and raised the Red-and-White flag as well as banners all around the village to celebrate the joyous occasion,” he said on Tuesday.
The villagers were later reported to the local police two days later for putting the Indonesian flag upside down. The farmers are accused of violating Article 24 of Law No. 24/2009 on the national flag, language, national anthem and emblem.
“The police took them away from their houses at 1 a.m on Dec. 17. They broke down the door forcefully, intimidating their families,” Willy said.
Fortunately, Sawin, Sukma and Nanto were released the following day after the LBH Bandung and environmental watchdog Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) bailed them out.
However, on Sept. 27, the Indramayu Police named Sawin and Sukma the main suspects in the flag defamation case and arrested them, resulting in both of them being detained at the Indramayu Prosecutor’s Office.
Data from the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute revealed that criminalization of environmentalists is rampant, with 50 activists having fallen victim in 2017.
Walhi head campaigner for energy and urban issues Dwi Sawung lambasted the authorities for the arrest of the Mekarsari residents, saying that they did not commit the crime.
“It’s really ridiculous. Logically speaking, the celebration was a form of expressing gratitude to the government for winning their lawsuit. Why would they express their gratitude by defaming the nation?” he said.
Dwi strongly believes that the defamation case was made up by people who disagree with the court’s decision on the Mekarsari residents' lawsuit.
“That’s their way to silence the activists,” he said.
Amnesty International Indonesia director Usman Hamid urged the Environment and Forestry Ministry to help protect the environmentalists.
The ministry is currently formulating a Ministerial Regulation to protect the environmentalists based on Law No. 23/2009 on environment protection. (wit)