Jakarta – Thousands of residents of Rempang Island in Batam province have opposed being relocated to Galang Island to make way for the Eco City national strategic project (PSN).
This resistance was inevitable because residents want to remain living in an area which they claim to be ancient ethnic Malay (Malayu) villages in Rempang.
The clash between the authorities and residents broke out on September 7. The police fired teargas at the protesters and children at a nearby school were also affected with some having to be rushed to hospital.
Five days later, chaos erupted again at the Batam Free Port Agency (BP Batam) office when as many as 43 people who refused relocation were arrested by the police and accused of being provocateurs. Several were named suspects.
The repressive action by the authorities in Rempang has triggered anger among the Indonesian public, especially ethnic Malay communities. At least 130 civil society organisations from Aceh to Papua urged the government, especially President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, to halt the Rempang Eco City project.
On Friday September 15 solidarity actions were held in several parts of the country from Medan (North Sumatra) and Jambi (South Sumatra) to joint prayers in solidarity with Rempang at the Islamic mass organisation Muhammadiyah headquarters in Jakarta.
North Sumatra alliance wants project halted
Protesters from the North Sumatra Malayu Alliance held an action at the Hero's Cemetery on Jalan Sisingamangaraja in Medan city on Friday urging the government to halt the Rempang Eco City project.
"We urge the government to immediately halt the Rempang Eco City national strategic project in the Riau Islands", said action coordinator Datok Irwan Supadli on Friday afternoon.
The protesters also asked the government to uphold the rights of the Malayu community to their land and ensure that the Malayu culture does not disappear.
"This action is a combination of different elements of Islamic and non-Islamic communities. We are urging the government to ensure the protection and recognition of all the indigenous peoples of the ancient Malayu villages on Rempang and Galang Islands", he asserted.
During the action, he added, they are supporting the Malayu residents struggle in the Rempang and Galang Islands and are asking that the residents not be intimidated or oppressed.
"We do not want the Malayu residents to be intimidated or repressed. Give the Rempang and Galang residents their rights", he said.
The protesters arrived bringing various protest materials and the action was closely watched over by police.
Jambi community calls for review of project
Several traditional Malayu communities in Jambi also held a solidarity action on Friday in which they opposed the planned relocation of Rempang and Galang Island residents to make way for the Eco City project.
The protesters put up a banner at the Keris Singinjai Monument in Jambi city and took turns at giving speeches calling for solidarity with Rempang residents.
Jambi Malayu traditional community action coordinator Afis Alatas said that the Eco City project threatened the lives of the communities on Rempang and Galang Islands and they are therefore asking the government to review the project.
"We are asking the government of the Republic of Indonesia to review or restudy the decision that has been taken. So that any decisions taken will be fair on the communities", he said.
Alatas said they have received news that several social figures from the Rempang and Galang Island had been arrested and were currently being questioned.
"Social figures there have been arrested and are being questioned. We are asking for the sake of humanity that the best decision be taken", he said.
Aside from being driven by a sense of humanity, the solidarity action was also reinforced by a sense of ethnic sentiment, because the Malayu community in Jambi has a historical relationship with the peoples of Rempang Island.
Alatas said they will continue to monitor the Eco City project and the planned relocation of the residents. If the decisions taken still harm the Rempang and Galang Island communities the Malayu communities in Jambi will hold more protest actions.
The Jambi Malayu community basically supports all policies and development programs carried out by the government as long as they are in line with human rights.
Solo action demands cancelation of project
Protesters calling themselves Malayu Solo Concern demanded that the government cancel the Eco City project when they held a demonstration at the Gladag traffic circle in Solo, Central Java, on Friday afternoon.
The action participants, who came from various parts of greater Solo, began gathering at the Gladag traffic circle at 1.30 pm.
They brought banners with messages protesting the Eco City project such as "Pak Jokowi immediately save Rempang for the ordinary people", "The tyrannical authorities are allies of Satan" and "Cancel the Rempang Eco City project!".
"We are asking Pak [Mr] Jokowi through the Economics Ministry to cancel the Rempang Eco City project where at the moment there is still opposition from the community", said action coordinator Endro Sudarsono during a break in the action.
Sudarsono said that the government is being selective between investors and its citizens. Until now the government has still not provided land certificates to local residents, even though there are traditional communities who have lived there for generation after generation and for hundreds of years.
On the other hand, the investors who will build the Rempang Eco City were able to obtain business permits (HGU) without the knowledge of the local population. "This means there is discrimination against residence and privilege for investors", he said.
He also highlighted the fact that the Eco City project, which will be carried out by the company PT Makmur Elok Graha (MEG), is a subsidiary of a company owned by politically connected business tycoon Tommy Winata. The project is aiming to attract 381 trillion rupiah in investment by 2080.
The group also highlighted the land clearing process carried out by police who allegedly used violence, which was opposed by residents and resulted in school children being injured by teargas.
"Including asking the Kapolri [national police chief] to use an approach with residents that is more humane and respects human rights", he said.
The recent incident on Rempang Island has resulted in many people speaking out, from the country's two largest Islamic mass organisations Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) to the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi).
Sudarsono is asking the government to listen to input from these organisations. "The government doesn't need to mundur isin (be ashamed to revoke a decision) in accepting input from the public", he said.
Joint prayers in Jakarta
On Friday evening in Jakarta meanwhile, the group National Solidarity for Rempang plans to hold joint prayers at the Muhammadiyah Community Religious Outreach Institute in Central Jakarta, which will begin at 6.30 pm.
"The situation is still full of threats and intimidation that is triggering a wave of protests from residents. A humanitarian tragedy because of PSN is happening again", read the introduction to an invitation to the evening event at the Muhammadiyah headquarters.
[Translated by James Balowski. Abridged slightly due to repetition. The original title of the article was "Aksi Solidaritas Melayu untuk Rempang dari Medan, Jambi, hingga Solo".]