by Moses Ompusunggu, Wahyoe Boediwardhana
JAKARTA/BANYUWANGI, Indonesia (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - The Banyuwangi District Court in East Java sentenced on Tuesday environmentalist Heri Budiawan, 37, to 10 months’ imprisonment for violating Criminal Code provisions on crimes against state security.
He was found guilty of spreading communism during a rally opposing the presence of a gold mining company in Gunung Tumpang Pitu, East Java.
Heri is the first person to be penalised under articles banning communism in Indonesia since the fall of strongman Soeharto — which initiated in the 1960s a communist scare to counter antigovernment activities — in 1998.
Prosecutors originally sought seven years in prison for Heri, one of the highest sentence demands for rights activists and environmentalists implicated in criminal cases to date, according to the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi).
Heri’s lawyer, Abdul Wahid Habibullah, said he would appeal the ruling and that his client had been penalized for “something he never committed.”
“Many events could not be proven during the trial, such as the presence of a banner that was said to display the hammer-and-sickle logo,” he said.
Heri, nicknamed Budi Pego, was arrested in September 2017 for allegedly displaying a banner with a hammer-and-sickle logo during an April protest against gold mining activities in an area prone to environmental degradation. His lawyer and colleagues denied the claim.
Amnesty International Indonesia slammed the ruling, calling it a “repression of citizens’ constitutional rights to free speech.”
Amnesty International Indonesia director Usman Hamid said in a statement Tuesday that the organisation “is calling for higher judiciary institution to free Budi Pego, who fights for the environment and rights of people living around Gunung Tumpang Pitu.”
Usman said the court had failed to deliver justice because of “weak evidence” to support allegations levelled at Budi.
“Even though the ruling was much lower than the prosecutor’s demand, it has still offended the public’s sense of justice, because the allegation of spreading communism was used by authorities to charge a person who peacefully voiced his criticism,” Usman said.
In 2006, the Banyuwangi regency administration granted a mining business license to PT Indo Multi Niaga, which later transferred it to PT Merdeka Copper Gold through its two subsidiaries. These were PT Bumi Suksesindo (BS), which was given the right to work on 4,998 hectares, and PT Damai Suksesindo, which was to manage 6,623 ha.
The local community publicly opposed the establishment of mining operations in 1997. The latest protest was conducted on Nov. 25 and ended in clashes between local demonstrators and security personnel.
Tumpang Pitu had been designated a protected forest area, but on Nov. 19, 2013, then forestry minister Zulkifli Hasan, now the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) speaker and National Mandate Party (PAN) chairman, issued a decree changing the status of 1,942 ha of protected forest to production forest in Tumpang Pitu, paving the way for mining operations to begin.