Jakarta – Amnesty International Indonesia believes that the arrest of Heru Budiawan alias Budi Pego, an activist opposing the Tumpang Pitu gold mine in Banyuwangi, East Java, does irreparable damage the image of Indonesian justice.
Amnesty International Executive Director Usman Hamid says that Budiawan's arrest also demonstrates the lack of freedom for those attempting to protect the environment.
According to Hamid, Budiawan was only arrested because he had a critical position on the gold mining project's impact on the environment. Hamid said that instead of protecting Budiawan's right to an opinion and peaceful expression, law enforcement officials have instead criminalised him.
"This also does irreparable damage to the image of the highest judicial body, namely the Supreme Court (MA), which represents the final bastion of justice", said Hamid in an official press release on Sunday March 26.
Hamid believes that Budiawan's arrest could also give rise to deterrent effect for those who have views that are different from the policies supported by the state, especially human rights defenders, environmental activist and local communities fighting to save and protect the environment.
Yet, said Hamid, there have been many government officials – including President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo – who have repeatedly called on people play a part in efforts to save the environment.
According to Hamid, what has befallen Budiawan shows that the state through the government, specifically the police and the Attorney General's Office, are inconsistent in the their commitment to dealing with climate change and protecting natural resources, as is constantly articulated in national and international forums.
"We are calling for Budi Pego to be immediately and unconditionally released and to be able to undergo the legal process in a fair manner, have access to legal counsel and family. Having an opinion cannot be allowed to be intervened in. And peaceful freedom of expression is not a criminal act", concluded Hamid.
According to information received by Amnesty, Budiawan was suddenly arrested without explanation by members of the Banyuwangi municipal police (Polresta) and district attorney's office on Friday March 24 at around 5 pm.
Budiawan was immediately detained and is currently being held at the Banyuwangi Correctional Institution under the authority of the Banyuwangi prosecutor's office.
Budiawan's detention is based on a Supreme Court appeal ruling that handed down a sentence of four years in prison. The detention had been on hold for five years.
Budiawan is one of the residents of Pesanggaran sub-district, Banyuwangi, who put up banners opposing the Tumpang Pitu gold mine on April 4, 2017.
Police subsequently accused them of using a hammer-and-sickle logo on the banners despite the fact that the banners were made under the direct supervision of the Pesanggaran sub-district Babinmas (a community supervisory non-commissioned officer) and Babhinkamtibmas (a village-assigned police officers who act as advisers on security and public order).
Budiawan was indicted under Article 107a of the Criminal Code (KUHP) for the criminal act of spreading and developing Marxist, communist and Leninist teachings.
Even though during his trial at the Banyuwangi District Court the material evidence in the form of the banner with the hammer-and-sickle logo on it disappeared, Budiawan was still sentenced to 10 months in prison. His sentence was later upheld by East Java District Court after an appeal by the prosecutor and a special legal team.
Then on October 16, 2018, the Supreme Court sentenced Budiawan to four years in prison based the results of an appeal submitted to the court.
Budiawan received a Stage I letter of execution following the Supreme Court's ruling on December 7, 2018, followed by a Stage II letter of execution on December 21, although neither Budiawan nor his attorney received a copy of the Supreme Court's appeal ruling.
A resident of the Tumpang Pitu area that attended a National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) press conference, Nur Hidayat, said that prior to Budiawan's arrest last Friday local people often suffered intimidation.
"Before the arrest last Friday, police officers often intimidated residents verbally. For example, arriving at a resident's home and threatening them with being charged under Article 162, in the end residents were frightened", said Hidayat, referring to Article 162 of the Mineral and Coal Mining Law that contains sanctions for people alleged to disrupt mining activities.
In addition to this, continued Hidayat, nine Tumpang Pitu residents were summoned for questioning by the Banyuwangi municipal police, who has also made people opposing the gold mine afraid.
The Komnas HAM believes that Budiawan's rights as a human rights defender are actually guaranteed under the human rights defenders declaration, Law Number 39/1999 on Human Rights and Law Number 32/2019 on Environmental Protection and Management.
The Komnas HAM has also issued a set of standard norms and regulations (SPN) on the protection of human rights defenders through Komnas HAM Regulation Number 4/2021, where human rights defenders in the environmental sector are covered under Point 46, so the Commission therefore deplores the arrest and detention of Budiawan. (mrh/DAL)
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Amnesty International Indonesia Kecam Penangkapan Aktivis Budi Pego".]