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Indonesian activists hail environmentalist’s acquittal

Daniel Frits Maurits Tangkilisan is fifth activist jailed during the regime of ex-president Joko Widodo
Indonesian environmentalist Daniel Frits Maurits Tangkilisan was released from detention by the Semarang High Court in Central Java province on May 23.

Indonesian environmentalist Daniel Frits Maurits Tangkilisan was released from detention by the Semarang High Court in Central Java province on May 23. (Photo supplied)

Published: May 24, 2024 11:55 AM GMT
Updated: May 24, 2024 12:03 PM GMT

Indonesian rights activists have hailed the acquittal of an environmentalist as a victory for those fighting ecological degradation despite repression from state and non-state actors.

The Semarang High Court in Central Java province issued a verdict ordering the acquittal of Daniel Frits Maurits Tangkilisan on May 23.

The Court said Tangkilisan is acquitted of “all legal demands, restoring his rights to his abilities, position, honor and dignity" and he should be released from detention immediately.

The top court’s verdict overturned an earlier decision from the Jepara District Court in the same province that sentenced him to seven months in prison on charges of “inciting hatred towards certain groups based on their ethnicity, religion, and race under” the Law on Electronic and Information Transaction.

The April 4 verdict from the lower court triggered angry protests by his supporters.

Tangkilisan was charged for a post on Facebook in February that criticized illegal shrimp farming at Karimunjawa, a protected national park in northeastern Jepara Regency.

The former lecturer drew the ire of private farms engaged in illegal shrimp farming in collaboration with state officials, reports say.

He was accused of defamation by the public prosecutor for using the term “shrimp brain community” to criticize illegal shrimp farming that endangered the environment and local communities.

The Semarang High Court stated that Tangkilisan had indeed "committed the acts charged by the public prosecutor, but the defendant was proven to be a fighter for the right to a good and healthy environment."

Nenden Sekar Arum, executive director of the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet) welcomed the court decision.

"However, its argument regarding hate speech still needs to be an important note," she said.

Nevertheless, she said, this is a sign of the success of a solid movement by society in confronting the criminalization of activists.

"This means that if we speak out for good, especially for the public interest, many people will definitely support it," she said.

Bambang Zakaria, a rights activist in Karimunjawa who helped organize support for the jailed environmentalist, said that this verdict "is the success of all of us who supported Daniel's case, even though we dug through blood to get justice."

"Daniel's freedom triggers or fuels our enthusiasm to continue fighting and indicates that we should not be afraid to speak out on environmental issues," he told UCA News.

Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission chairman Atnike Nova Sigiro said the verdict is a reminder that the "criminalization of activists” under so-called Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) should stop.

She said that if this is allowed to happen, it "has the potential to become a form of human rights violation against environmental human rights defenders."

Tangkilisan is the fifth environmental activist jailed for their activism during the administration of former President Joko Widodo.

Valentinus Dulmin, from the advocacy division of the Franciscan Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission, said the acquittal gave a breath of fresh air to environmental activists.

“We hope this verdict inspires more people to fight together for the environment,” he said.

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