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Indonesian rights groups call for release of farmers

Kalimantan farmers were arrested at the behest of a palm oil firm in a land dispute with villagers, they say

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Indonesian rights groups call for release of farmers

Families and friends of the three detained farmers hold a protest in Palangka Raya in Central Kalimantan on April 6. (Photo courtesy of Save Our Borneo)

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Dozens of rights groups have called on the Indonesian government to free three activist farmers from Central Kalimantan arrested last month in Jakarta — and to protect tribal people from repressive acts by local police.

Police stormed the office of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI) in Jakarta on March 7 and arrested the farmers — Dedi Susanto, Untung, and James Watt — from an indigenous Dayak community in Central Kalimantan’s Kotawaringin district.  

They are being held in the provincial capital Palangka Raya after being accused of inciting others to steal palm fruit from a plantation owned by a palm oil company.

The three had gone to Jakarta for meetings with the National Human Rights Commission and other groups to garner their support in a land dispute between the farmers and the company Hamparan Masawit Bangun Persada.

The dispute began in 2006 when the company allegedly seized around 117 hectares of their land.

“These arrests were engineered by Hamparan Masawit Bangun Persada to break people’s resistance,” read a statement signed by 20 human rights and environmental groups including Amnesty International Indonesia, the Mining Advocacy Network and Human Rights Working Group.

“President Joko Widodo should instruct the national police chief to stop violence against farmers who are being denied their rights over land, plantations and rice fields, the source of their livelihoods,” the groups said.

“The government should not ransack and relocate people on behalf of investors as that will worsen people’s social and economic situation.”

Usman Hamid, director of Amnesty International Indonesia, told UCA News that the police chief should instigate disciplinary action against officers for what was an act of intimidation.

Father Sani Lake, director of the church-run Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation group in the Kalimantan region, said the company had used police as a tool to get what it wanted.

“The three farmers were arrested because they had been accused of [leading] the fight against the company in their community,” he told UCA News. 

He said they went to Jakarta to seek help. “However, police supported by the company chased and arrested them in Jakarta,” the priest said.

The palm oil company and police could not be reached for comment.

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