Siktus Harson, Jakarta – Tensions between an Indonesian minister and rights activists over claims his mining business is stoking conflict in Papua have entered a new phase.
Not long after Maritime and Investment Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, a Christian, lodged a defamation suit against rights defenders Haris Azhar and Fatia Maulidiyanti last month, the police quickly named the two activists as suspects.
Although they were not detained, people questioned the police's impartiality in the case. They felt police would not have been so quick to act if the report had been filed by an ordinary citizen.
Azhar is executive director of the non-profit Lokataru Foundation and Maulidiyanti is coordinator of the Commission for Disappeared Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS).
The minister reported them over a video titled There's Lord Luhut, Indonesian intelligence, behind the economic-military ops in Intan Jaya – a resource-rich district in Papua.
For decades, violence and human rights violations have plagued the Papuan people since Indonesia's annexation of the region in the 1960s. The Indonesian military and police have often been accused of orchestrating violence against the people.
Azhar has often been critical of the violence. He revealed the identity of the soldiers who killed Protestant pastor Yeremia Zanambani in September 2020 in Intan Jaya district.
He and fellow rights defenders have been at the forefront in fighting against injustices. This time, he and Maulidiyanti exposed military links with corporations. In the video, the activists took aim at companies managed by retired generals, claiming they were behind the enforcement of security operations in conflict-torn Papua.
What they said was nothing new but echoed the findings of nine non-profit organizations. They included Greenpeace Indonesia and KontraS, which conducted months of research into the issue.
The study resulted in a 2021 report, "The Economics and Politics of Military Placement in Papua: The Case of Intan Jaya," which purportedly showed a relationship between corporations and the military in the deployment of troops in Papua, especially in Intan Jaya district.
It mentioned four companies in particular. Two of them – Freeport Indonesia and Madinah Qurrata'Ain – are gold mining firms. Among the retired generals mentioned with links to such firms was Pandjaitan.The central government did not respond to the findings. Azhar and Maulidiyanti, however, wanted to lay the findings before the public.
For them, allegations that current military operations in Papua were to protect mining businesses were a serious issue involving a conflict of interest among high-ranking officials.
The two activists wanted the public and the central government to see that the main human rights problem in Papua is militarism and that the goal to restore peace and security to the region is overshadowed by economic interests.
But Jakarta does not seem happy and wants to silence any voice that discusses the motives and persons behind military operations in Papua.
As a minister and one of President Joko Widodo's closest aides, Pandjaitan is unhappy with his name being linked to the conflict in Papua. His lawsuit against the activists can either mean it's on his account or on behalf of the government.
On many occasions, he has denied having business interests in Papua, saying he wanted the accusations against him settled in court. In addition to the criminal suit, he also plans to file a US$7 million civil case against the activists.
Non-governmental organizations think the legal action is a political maneuver by the government to silence activists. It sets a bad precedent for human rights activities in the country, particularly in Papua.
According to the National Committee for Agrarian Reform, over the last six years at least 1,587 activists, farmers, indigenous people and fishermen have been victimized for speaking out against agrarian conflicts, natural resource exploitation and companies behind land concessions. Many of them were intimidated and physically harassed, and some lost their lives.
The Papuan People's Council has renewed calls for the government to come to Papua for talks to find solutions to the problems. They say branding Papuan people who fight for their rights as terrorists has hurt them
But beyond that, Pandjaitan, who could be speaking on behalf of the central government, is sending a strong message that the Papua conflict or security operations in the region should not be linked to business.
For the government, the conflict in Papua is clear. It's not related to economic or social injustice but to armed separatists that it has designated as a terrorist group. Any activist who raises issues in Papua faces the wrath of a draconian internet law that has silenced many critics.
Silencing human rights activists is a typical government response over the Papua issue.
Indonesian police accused lawyer and rights activist Veronica Koman of instigating violence by tweeting videos of unrest in several cities in September 2019 after protests broke out in Papua in response to racism directed at Papuan students in Surabaya, East Java. She fled to Australia and remains there.
The Papuan People's Council has renewed calls for the government to come to Papua for talks to find solutions to the problems. They say branding Papuan people who fight for their rights as terrorists has hurt them.
If the government has nothing to hide, it must not be afraid to talk with the people and listen to what rights activists have to say instead of silencing them. It must also allow international representatives to investigate rights abuses in Papua and their causes.
[The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.]