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'He's just a small-time farmer': Lawyer defends man on trial for allegedly causing land fires

Jakarta Post - January 29, 2020

Rizal Harahap, Pekanbaru – A farmer in Riau is currently on trial for alleged arson at the Pekanbaru District Court after he burned a 400-square-meter plot of land for farming, reportedly causing the fires to spread beyond the intended area.

Syarifuddin, 69, faces a four-year prison sentence and a Rp 3 billion (US$220,090) fine, subsidiary to six months of imprisonment, as demanded by prosecutors of the Pekanbaru Prosecutor's Office, who have charged him for arson under articles 108, 69 and 98 of the 2009 law on environmental protection.

The case arose on March 17 last year when Syarifuddin cleared a plot of land to plant spice crops by collecting dry shrubs and sticks and setting fire to them. He also made dividers to contain the fire within the plot.

The father of six then left the plot to pray at his house on Jl. Yos Sudarso, Rumbai district in Pekanbaru. When he returned to the plot, he met several police officers who arrested him for arson.

The trial started in October 2019, when the prosecutors accused him of arson.

In a defense plea on Jan. 21, which followed the trial session a week prior, when prosecutors gave their sentence demand, the defendant and his lawyer Andi Wijaya disagreed with the prosecutors' demands.

Andi said Syarifuddin had not started the fire to clear land to establish plantations, but rather only to plant tubers and long beans.

"The plot burned was less than 2 hectares. He also burned it traditionally, using a divider so the fire would not spread. The plot that the defendant worked on was mineral land, not peatland," Andi told the panel of judges.

"The defendant is just a small farmer who wanted to farm for his family's needs, not to clear out land with fire to make way for a large plantation that damages the environment," he said.

Andi also said the evidence that the prosecutor showed to the court was weak and that the prosecutor did not summon an environmental expert as a witness during the trial.

"An expert witness is important to support the demand of the prosecutors, who only gave a laboratory letter as proof that the defendant caused worsening ambient air quality and environmental damage," he said.

Pekanbaru Prosecutor's Office criminal department head Robi Harianto said the prosecutors' demands fit with the existing laws and facts shown during the trial.

"The defendant admitted to burning the plot of land on purpose. This violates Article 98 of Law No. 32/2009 on environmental protection [which stipulates] imprisonment of at least three years and up to 10 years, with a fine of at least Rp 3 billion and up to Rp 10 billion," Robi said.

"The land that the defendant burned was initially only 20 x 20 meters, but the fire spread. According to the Pekanbaru Land Agency's (BPN) calculation, up to 1,078 sq m of land was in flames," he added.

Robi said the defendant was also not the legal owner of the land that he burned, and did so without the owner's permission.

However, he admitted that the prosecutor did not summon an environmental expert during the trial.

"We did not provide one on purpose, because [the environmental expert] was abroad," he said, "The testimonies provided by witnesses according to the BAP [police investigation report] are already sufficient, as they had taken an oath during questioning. Besides, there are also experts from the BPN and the laboratory test result." (ami)

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/01/29/hes-just-a-small-farmer-lawyer-defends-man-on-trial-for-allegedly-causing-land-fires.html