Police in Indonesia's Catholic-majority Flores Island summoned two Catholic villagers and two local activists and accused them of sedition over a planned protest during the upcoming summit of Southeast Asian leaders over the compensation for houses and land clearing for a road.
The villagers and activists planned to demonstrate in front of the ASEAN summit venue in Labuan Bajo, a popular tourist town, during the meetings on May 9-11.
However, the West Manggarai District Police issued summons to farmers, Dominikus Safio Bion and Viktor Frumentius, and activists, Doni Parera and Ladis Jeharun, both Catholics, on May 7 and accused them of sedition.
The police action came two days after they applied for permission to hold the rally on the first day of the summit to demand compensation for the road project.
The 25-kilometer road stretch having a width of 23 meters was inaugurated by President Joko Widodo on March 14. It leads to the special economic zone in Golo Mori, some 25 kilometers to the south of Labuan Bajo, the host of the Summit.
The protesters alleged that at least 51 families from the villages of Cambi, Nalis, and Kenari, most of whom were farmers, were evicted while 23 houses, 14,050 square meters of yards, 1,790 square meters of rice fields, and 1,080 square meters of fields were taken away by the government without any compensation.
The protesters have decided to denounce an appeal of the East Nusa Tenggara Province Police chief, Johni Asadoma on April 27, who called on the residents "not to take action during the event."
Bishop Siprianus Hormat of Ruteng Diocese, which covers the area, supported the appeal from the police chief. A letter from the bishop supporting the appeal was read out in churches on Sunday, May 6.
The bishop asked Catholics to help the government make the event successful by "creating a cool, comfortable, and joyful atmosphere."
Activist Doni Parera said they are surprised by the police action "because we only want to voice out problems that have not yet been resolved amid the excitement over ASEAN Summit."
"If in the midst of this ASEAN Summit moment, the rights of citizens are ignored, in the future I am very unsure that the rights of citizens will be fulfilled," he pointed out.
"We will only cancel the rally if there is a sure guarantee that the residents' right to compensation is fulfilled," he told UCA News.
Frumentius said they were determined to hold the rally, "because we only ask for compensation, according to what is guaranteed by Indonesian law."
In a statement on May 8, a coalition of civil society groups, including the Franciscans' Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission called the accusations of sedition "absolutely fabricated and a real mistake by the police."
The coalition said, "The summons to the residents is clearly part of an effort to obstruct and frighten, an integral part of silencing the freedom of assembly and expression," they said.
Ano Susabun, from Labuan Bajo-based advocacy group, Sunspirit for Justice and Peace, said they had prepared a legal team to accompany the residents and activists.
"The demonstration is also planned to continue and be escorted by a legal team if violence occurs against them," he said.