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Indonesian activists face jail over FB posts flagging damage to marine park

Mongabay - March 25, 2024

Basten Gokkon, Jakarta – Greenpeace has condemned mounting legal actions taken by Indonesian authorities against four activists for protesting illegal shrimp farms damaging a marine park off the island of Java.

The four activists from the environmental movement #SaveKarimunjawa have been accused of violating a controversial 2008 law on online speech over posts they made denouncing the shrimp farms operating inside Karimunjawa National Park, an ostensibly protected area.

"All of this is a form of silencing the public who are fighting for the environment, who are fighting against the business interests of oligarchs and dirty businesses," Greenpeace Indonesia said in a statement.

Observers have widely condemned the legal action against the four environmental defenders, calling it part of exhaustive efforts by the authorities to censor, intimidate and silence through so-called SLAPP measures, or strategic lawsuit against public participation.

The most advanced of the ongoing cases is that against Daniel Frits Maurits Tangkilisan, who was charged in June 2023 for his criticism posted on Facebook the previous year. Police arrested him on Dec. 7, 2023, but granted him conditional release the following day.

His case eventually came before the Jepara High Court, and on March 19 prosecutors sought a conviction with a jail sentence of 10 months and a fine of 5 million rupiah ($320). The court has scheduled the verdict hearing for April 4.

Three of Daniel's allies in the #SaveKarimunjawa campaign – Hasanuddin, Datang Abdul Rohim and Sumarto Rofi'un – were reported in November 2023 to the local police for posting a video of their opposition to the illegal shrimp farms.

The case against the four men revolves around the activists' campaign to highlight the proliferation of the shrimp farms in the Karimunjawa archipelago off the north coast of Java. Since 2016, Greenpeace Indonesia says it has recorded an increase in these illegal farms, and blames them for waste discharges that have damaged the marine and coastal ecosystem and created a freshwater crisis.

Most of the islands form part of Karimunjawa National Park, declared a marine reserve in 2001 and spanning 1,100 square kilometers (425 square miles) today. A patchwork of zoning policies allows artisanal fishing in certain areas, as well as tourism and research activities. The island chain is one of seven marine national parks in Indonesia, and is renowned for its coral reefs. Nearly 500 species of reef fish thrive in the waters around Karimunjawa, and the park is a popular tourist attraction for divers and snorkelers.

"What Daniel is doing is one simple way to fight for Karimunjawa – a fortress in the north of Java that is important for the safety of marine and coastal conservation, as well as the people who live there," Didit Wicaksono, the climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Indonesia, said in the March 21 statement.

Some human rights experts say the prosecution of the four activists is yet more proof that environmental defenders in Indonesia have little recourse to protection, and that law enforcers are actively restricting the space for environmental advocacy. They also note that the legal action against the activists goes against international human rights standards, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Indonesia ratified in 2005.

The 2008 law under which the men have been charged has long been criticized for stifling opposition to the government. In December, the national parliament passed a revision to the law that included tighter requirements for the law's defamation article, requiring a stronger burden of proof in prosecutions. Human rights advocates have been urging a review of the 2008 law that governs defamation and online hate, contending that certain clauses are ambiguous and can be easily abused, jeopardizing freedom of expression in the world's third-largest democracy.

From January 2019 to May 2022, Amnesty International documented 328 incidents of both physical and digital assaults on human rights advocates in Indonesia, affecting 834 individuals. Among these were environmental activists advocating for a pollution-free and healthy environment. Additionally, Amnesty International Indonesia highlighted that within the same period, there were at least 37 reported incidents targeting defenders of environmental and land rights, with at least 172 victims. The peak year for such attacks was 2020, with 79 individuals affected.

"The trial and prosecution of Daniel is a very strategic process to discourage environmental struggles in the future, even though the impact of environmental damage in Indonesia is getting worse," Didit said.

[Basten Gokkon is a senior staff writer for Indonesia at Mongabay.]

Source: https://news.mongabay.com/2024/03/indonesia-karimunjawa-marine-park-illegal-facebook-uu-ite-pollution-shrimp-farms