Watchdogs have lamented the lack of protection of human rights activists. Several civil society organizations noted that environmental and natural resources activists are prone to criminalization. “Fresh arrests of environmental activists take place every day in regions,” Tandiono Bawor, an activist of the Association for Community and Ecology-Based Law Reform (Huma), told Tempo on Tuesday.
Huma noted Indonesia saw at least 237 cases of criminalization of environmental activists throughout 2012-2016. Activists had been named suspects without clear legal proceedings. “It’s a measure taken by law enforcement agencies to suppress human rights activists in order for them to stop working,” he said.
In North Sumatra, for example, 16 indigenous people of Pandumaan-Sipituha have been named suspects since 2013. They have been charged with illegally entering an incense forest, which concession was granted to a private firm. Last year, the Environment and Forestry Ministry returned the forest to the indigenous people. Yet, their suspect status has not been dropped.
Tandiono said that law enforcement agencies should observe article 66 of Law No. 32/2009 on Environmental Protection and Management that says that those fighting for the rights for good and healthy environment shall not be subjected to criminal or civil lawsuits.
Aside from criminalization, 10 human rights activists were killed between 2012 and 2016. Among those killed was farmer Salim Kancil of Lumajang, East Java, who was abducted and assaulted to death for opposing sand mining activities in his village Selok Awar-awar. Former village head Hariono has been sentenced to 20 years in jail for being the main perpetrator of Salim’s murder. “The case is still unresolved. Legal proceedings did not touch the intellectual actors, but only field executioners,” said Damairia of Yayasan Perlindungan Insani, a human rights defender organization.
Damaria said that human rights activists need advocacy assistance to realize the risks associated with their job, including bullying on social media, criminalization, being stalked and threat against their family members. Damairia said that threats are not only posed from outside, but also from fellow human rights activists. “They are prone to attack from the people closest to them for being too vocal,” she said.
Damairia has urged the government to revise laws that often been used to prosecute human rights defenders. She pointed to the charge of property damage, hate speech and defamation in the criminal code. She also called for revisions to Law No. 39/1999 on Human Rights.
The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas Ham) member Siti Noor Laila said that the Commission has an internal procedure in place to protect investigators on the ground. However, in order to provide a universal protection, the Commission and watchdogs have agreed to propose revisions to human rights law to the House of Representatives (DPR) and add an article that would protect human rights activists. The House, however, had yet to list the proposed revisions into the National Legislative Programs (Prolegnas).