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Ancestral land fighters win Indonesian award

Activist once jailed amid environmental battle, farmers' group pick up Yap Thiam Hien prizes

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Ancestral land fighters win Indonesian award

Eva Susanti Hanafi Bande receives the Yap Thiam Hien Award from Emil Salim, a former environment minister during the Suharto era, on Jan. 21 in Jakarta. (Photo by Konradus Epa/ucanews.com)

An Indonesian environmentalist who served a four-year jail term for her activism has received this year’s prestigious Yap Thiam Hien Award along with a farmers’ group for their struggle in defending ancestral land.

Activist, Eva Susanti Hanafi Bande, and Sedulur Sikep, the farmers’ group from Central Java, collected their awards at a ceremony on Jan. 21 in Jakarta.

Bande, 40, was recognized for her efforts in fighting for the rights of farmers in Banggai district, Central Sulawesi.

"The farmers were battling for land taken by big business and converted into palm oil plantations," she said.

"They have caused immense damage to the environment," she added.

The long-running battle that began about a decade ago saw her accused of inciting protests against PT Kurnia Luwuk Sejati, a palm oil company in Banggai district, in which farmers set fire to several company buildings.

As a result she was arrested and sentenced to four and a half years in prison in May 2010. She was freed in 2014 after she appealed to President Joko Widodo for clemency.

"I hope that the president will show resolve to solve agrarian conflicts and free the farmers who are still in jail [for the arson attacks]," she said. 

Bande said the award held great meaning to her.

"It highlights my struggle in Banggai district, as well those of farmers anywhere in Indonesia who are seeking justice over their land," she said.

The Sedulur Sikep group said their award would motivate them to work harder to protect the environment in Central Java’s Kendeng Mountains.

Sedulur Sikep is a tribal group that has been struggling to reclaim their land from a cement factory.

The group’s spokesman said those with money and power, have often undermined their struggle.

"We are often labeled as the ones who create conflict and agitation," said Gunretno, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

"The award proves that what we have done is right," he added.

Yoseph Adiprasetyo, one of the award panelists, told ucanews.com that the award recipients were chosen because of their resilience in protecting the environment by defending ancestral land.

According to environmental group Protection International Indonesia, about 80 percent of human rights violations against activists from 2014 to 2018 involved environmentalists, many of whom have been jailed on what were widely believed to be dubious or legally flawed charges.

The Yap Thiam Hien Award was named after a renowned Indonesian lawyer and human rights defender who died in 1989.

The award has been given to human rights activists since 1992, including several Catholics, such as Father John Djonga who works with impoverished Papuans, and Katharina Sumarsih, whose son was killed during the 1998 uprising against Suharto.

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