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Indonesian activists face trial after minister's wrath

UCA News - April 5, 2023

An Indonesian court has begun the trial of two rights activists accused of defaming a minister, who was allegedly involved in a controversial gold mining project in the strife-torn Papua province.

Haris Azhar, executive director of Lokataru Law and Human Rights Office and Fatia Maulidiyanti, coordinator of the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence, appeared in the East Jakarta District Court for the first time on April 3.

The libel suit against them was filed by Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, the coordinating minister for maritime affairs in the government of President Joko Widodo.

In 2021 Azhar and Maulidiyanti claimed that Pandjaitan and other retired army generals were involved in the Wabu Block mining project in Intan Jaya regency, which is a conflict zone and home to one of the country's largest gold reserves spread over 69,118 hectares.

Pandjaitan filed the defamation suit in March 2022, eight months after rights activists claimed Pandjaitan had shares in one of the mining companies and the military deployment was meant to help the mining project.

The duo has been charged with defamation and spreading fake news under provisions of the draconian law on information and electronic transactions, said the prosecutor's office.

Members of civil society organizations protested in front of the court as the trial began.

The Civil Society Coalition, which consists of 55 human rights organizations, called the case "bad news for democracy." The coalition said the activists' actions were "legal and constitutional" and termed their indictment "a form of criminalization."

Muhammad Isnur, attorney for Azhar and Maulidiyanti, alleged that Pandjaitan, a retired army general, "has enormous influence on the government" and "can control the law enforcement agencies."

Isnur also criticized the prosecutor's indictment which focused on ensnaring the two activists. The prosecution deliberately ignored the aspects related to the criticism of mining plans and the deployment of more troops in the violence-hit Papua.

Papua, the easternmost province in Indonesia is plagued by civil unrest since becoming part of the Southeast Asian nation in 1969.

Papuans, who fight for an independent homeland, resist the Indonesian mining project in their mineral-rich land but the government faces it with military force.

Dimas Arya, who took part in the protest, said they wanted to show the public that "the sentencing of the activists was a symptom of an authoritarian state."

The case began after Azhar in a podcast in August 2021, claimed the minister owned shares of one of the companies involved in the mining project sanctioned by the Indonesian government in February 2020.

They also presented a report on the link between military deployment and the expansion of mining operations in troubled Papua. Pandjaitan rejected the findings of the report, and, in turn, sued the activists.

However, Amnesty International in a 2022 report said there had been an alarming addition of security personnel in Intan Jaya. The hike in the number of security forces was "accompanied by an increase in extrajudicial killings, raids and beatings" the Amnesty report said.

It said there were at least 12 suspected extrajudicial killings involving members of the Indonesian security apparatus in Intan Jaya in the 2020-2021 period.

"This number is more than a quarter of the total number of unlawful killings allegedly committed by Indonesian security forces" in Papua in the same period, said Amnesty.

In response to Amnesty's allegations, Papua Governor Lukas Enembe has asked the Ministry of Energy to temporarily halt issuing mining permits.

The attempt to rope in former military officials in the mining project and the deployment of more troops is a kind of warning for us Papuans, Father John Bunai from the Jayapura Diocese's Justice and Peace Secretariat, told UCA News.

Father Bunai said he provided support for Azhar and Maulidiyanti for their courage in voicing problems in Papua. He said that mining in the Wabu Block in Intan Jaya was opposed by Papuans because of human rights violations.

The proposed new mine will "make the lives of indigenous Papuans even more uncomfortable," Father Bunai observed.

Source: https://www.ucanews.com/news/indonesian-activists-face-trial-after-ministers-wrath/10090