The Rempang Eco City project seeks to relocate 16 traditional Malay villages
Police confront demonstrators in Rempang, Riau Islands of Indonesia on Sept. 7 during a protest rally against a tourism project. (Photo supplied)
Catholics have joined advocacy groups to ask the Indonesian government to end violence aiming to crush opposition to a controversial tourism project on a picturesque island.“We regret the repressive actions and tear gas shooting which resulted in students being treated at the hospital,” said a Sept. 10 statement from a lay group called, Catholic Youth.
The group deplored Sept. 8 police violence against residents of Riau Islands Province, who joined a protest of the construction of Rempang Eco City last week.
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The government has granted permission to a company owned by business tycoon Tomy Winata to develop industrial zones, and trade and tourism services on the island close to Singapore.
Local people oppose the project saying it threatens to relocate 16 traditional villages.
Police used batons and tear gas to disperse some 1,000 protesters at the Sept. 8 protest rally, leaving dozens injured and ten arrested. Videos on social media showed police atrocities on protesters who had blood all over their bodies.
Yohanes Adi Putra, a leader of the local Catholic youth group, said they support the government's efforts to advance the economy but urged not "to sacrifice the people who should be part of the beneficiaries."
They wanted the government to "listen more to the aspirations of the people” and find out people-friendly ways of economic development in the region.
Pangkalpinang Diocese, which covers the island, said some of those affected by the projects and involved in the protests are Catholics.
However, the diocese has decided “not to take an official open stance” on the issue because “tensions in the case are high and it is worried about religious issues being brought up," a diocesan official told UCA News on condition of anonymity.
Zensi Suhadi, national executive director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, said the project threatens the existence of 16 Malay traditional villages that have existed since 1834.
Suhadi told UCA News that they asked President Joko Widodo to cancel the project as it “has the potential to eliminate land rights and the traditional identity of the community in those 16 traditional villages."
It is part of a series of projects by the Widodo government to open investment for investors, including from abroad.
However, rights activists such as Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia, said the state’s repressive actions have "violated citizens' rights to express their opinions peacefully, their right to live without fear and their right to social welfare."
He asked the government to “prioritize meaningful consultations” with local people for sustainable solutions.
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