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Indonesian Catholic politician accused of human trafficking

Christian-majority East Nusa Tenggara province tops the list of Indonesian regions with a high rate of human trafficking
Catholic students hold a protest in Sikka Regency in Indonesia's Christian-majority East Nusa Tenggara province on May 13 to demand a quick handling of a human trafficking case.

Catholic students hold a protest in Sikka Regency in Indonesia's Christian-majority East Nusa Tenggara province on May 13 to demand a quick handling of a human trafficking case. (Photo supplied)

Published: May 20, 2024 11:30 AM GMT
Updated: May 20, 2024 11:52 AM GMT

Police in Indonesia’s Christian-majority East Nusa Tenggara province named a Catholic politician as a suspect in a human trafficking case that triggered protests from rights activists and Church groups.

Yuvinus Solo, an elected member of the local legislative council in Catholic-majority Flores Island, which is part of the province, was named as a suspect on May 17, announced Susanto, a police spokesman in the island’s Sikka Regency.

Susanto, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, said the police move came after examining 18 witnesses including seven workers who were duped by a syndicate linked to Solo.

This came after protests in Flores over a recent case that involved dozens of local workers who were sent to work in an oil palm plantation illegally.

Their employer was reportedly abusive which led to the death of a worker, sparking uproar in Flores.

"He played a role in recruiting and sending victims as non-procedural workers," Susanto told reporters.

Solo has been charged under the Human Trafficking Criminal Act 2007. If convicted, he faces 3-15 years in jail and a maximum fine equivalent of US$37,532.

A human trafficking case was filed against Solo and others in early April after 40-year-old Yodimus Moan Kaka died on March 28 while being taken to a hospital in East Kalimantan province after falling sick from starvation.

His wife, Maria Herlina Mbani said that Kaka had called her to say that he and eight other workers had not received food for several days.

Solo had denied recruiting Kaka, claiming that he only recruited 32 people at their request.

However, activists from church groups demanded his arrest saying that they collected evidence of his involvement.  

The activists including priests and nuns from the Humanitarian Volunteer Team and the Sikka branch of the Indonesian Catholic Student Association (PMKRI) visited a police station and submitted their evidence on May 13.

Activists said they collected evidence such as the transfer of money from Solo to Kaka's wife to buy air tickets from Flores to Kalimantan.

They also held a protest rally on May 13 demanding the immediate arrest of Solo, leading to clashes with police in Sikka Regency.

Charging Solo for human trafficking does not finish the police job of tackling the crime, said PMKRI chief Kornelis Wuli.

Police should not just target Solo "but also other parties who are strongly suspected of being involved, including law enforcement officers," Wuli said.

He alleged that they have a statement from a victim who said he paid money to a policeman at Lorens Say Harbor, Maumere, an administrative area, so that they could avoid document checks when leaving for Kalimantan.

"Don't just look at Solo and his cronies, but also look at invisible hands in a wider scope, such as law enforcers,” he told UCA News.

Head of the Sikka Regency Manpower and Transmigration Service, Valerianus Samador Conterius said that the recruitment of workers in this case was "clearly illegal" because it was supposed to go through an official business entity and go through several processes to obtain documents before leaving.

"In this case, the recruitment was done individually,” he said, adding that recruiting companies also must have operational permits from the Ministry of Manpower.

East Nusa Tenggara Province, one of the most impoverished regions, tops the list of Indonesian provinces with a high rate of human trafficking, activists say.

Trafficking syndicates operating in the province reportedly send hundreds of locals illegally to various areas such as Kalimantan and countries like Malaysia in the name of employment in oil plantations.

Last year, the National Human Rights Commission categorized the province as a human trafficking emergency area.

According to police, the province registered 185 human trafficking cases involving 256 victims in 2023.

Christians form about 90 percent of East Nusa Tenggara’s estimated 5.5 million population.

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