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Indonesia

Indonesian activist jailed for advocating communism

Amnesty International calls verdict against anti-mining activist a form of judicial repression against constitutional rights

Indonesian activist jailed for advocating communism

Farmers and activists protest after Banyuwangi District Court sentenced Heri Budiawan, an anti-mining activist, to 10 months in prison. (Photo courtesy of For Banyuwangi)

A 37-year-old anti-mining activist in Indonesia has been sentenced to 10 months' imprisonment for advocating communism, the first such verdict in 20 years.

Such convictions were last recorded prior to the fall of staunchly anti-communist former president Suharto in 1998.

Communism was banned in Indonesia following the murder of several senior military officers in 1965, which led to anti-communist massacres in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed.

In addition, large numbers of alleged Communist Party members and accused sympathizers were locked up.

History seemed to repeat itself on Jan. 23 when judges of Banyuwangi District Court in East Java found Heri Budiawan guilty of crimes against the security of the state.

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The verdict referred to the country's criminal code forbidding the dissemination of communism dogma.

The sentence of 10 months was lighter than prosecutors' call for seven years' incarceration.

Budiawan was arrested in April last year after gold mining firms PT Bumi Suksesindo and PT Damai Suksesindo filed a police complaint.

The activist had organized a protest against their operations in the district, including over alleged damage to sources of fresh water.

Banners displaying communist symbols, such as the hammer and sickle, were held up at the demonstration, the mining companies alleged.

Environmental protection advocates say the verdict will be appealed.

During the sentencing hearing, hundreds of farmers and activists staged a rally in support of Budiawan.

Legal aid practitioners complained that in this case, as well as many others, lawsuits were strategically used to silence critics through criminalization of dissent.

Last year, there were reportedly 61 such cases against activists, mostly in relation to campaigns over environmental issues or land rights.

Usman Hamid, Amnesty International's director for Indonesia, called the Budiawan verdict a form of judicial repression against the constitutional rights of citizens.

"The High Court must grant Budiawan's appeal as he fights for the preservation of the environment and the rights of the people," he said.

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