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Rights group slams disruption of water forum in Indonesia

Activists and organizers of People's Water Forum have been harassed by both law enforcers and ultranationalists, reports say
Water levels often run low on the Mekong River downstream from hydropower dams as seen in this file image. Activists and organizers of civil society group People's Water Forum, which advocates for water justice around the world, were harassed and intimidated in Indonesia earlier this week.

A band prepares to welcome dignitaries during their arrival for the opening ceremony of the 10th World Water Forum in Nusa Dua, Indonesia's Bali island, on May 20, 2024. (Photo by SONNY TUMBELAKA / AFP)



Published: May 23, 2024 07:51 AM GMT
Updated: May 23, 2024 09:39 AM GMT

Global rights group CIVICUS Monitor has condemned reported disruption of a civil society forum event on water rights and alleged harassment and intimidation of activists and organizers in Indonesia.

The authorities must investigate these actions against the People’s Water Forum (PWF) and take steps to protect civil society so that they are able to convene without any form of interference, the group said in a statement on May 22.

The PWF is a civil society platform that coordinates water justice movements around the world. Among its core objectives are ensuring water access as a human right and challenging the privatization and commercialization of water resources.

The group organized a gathering in Denpasar, Bali, from May 21-23, held concurrently with the 10th World Water Forum hosted by the Indonesian government, in Nusa Dua, Bali, from May 18-25.

Citing media reports CIVICUS said ahead of the PWF event, the authorities were harassing the Bintang Gana Foundation, a local organization affiliated with the PWF.

Police and military intelligence officials reportedly visited the director’s house, while the authorities put pressure on the venue owner to postpone or cancel the forum.

The social media accounts of PWF organizers were also hacked and the PWF website was trolled by individuals, CIVICUS said. Intelligence officers also monitored the accommodation of activists on May 18.

On May 20, members of Patriot Garuda Nusantara (PGN), an ultranationalist local organization, barged into a hotel in Denpasar and violently disrupted a pre-event discussion hosted by the PWF. The group had earlier visited the event site and demanded cancellation of the event, according to Amnesty International.

Video footage shows the group destroying event banners and billboards and physically attacking forum participants. They accused the PWF of distracting the World Water Forum.

CIVICUS alleged that such groups are often used by the state or individuals to intimidate civil society and critics.

Pedro Arrojo Agudo, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, was prevented from entering the PWF venue on May 21 as security forces were heavily guarding the venue. He and the PWF representatives accompanying him were forced to leave.

“At a time when the space for civil society and alternative voices is shrinking around the world, it is disgraceful that Indonesia, which prides itself as a champion of democracy, has disrupted a global civil society event to discuss the crucial issue of water rights and denied access to a UN expert,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia researcher.

“These incidents of harassment and intimidation are a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association which Indonesia has international human rights obligations to protect,” he said.

Attacks on civil society forums is not new in Indonesia.

In 2018, an alternative civil society conference on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank annual meeting was cancelled due to pressure from the police, CIVICUS said.

In November 2022, the Indonesian authorities disbanded the activities of civil society groups and harassed their organizers in Bali, ahead of the G20 Summit.

“The voices and engagement of civil society is crucial, in particular to ensure the protection of human rights and the Indonesian authorities are failing to ensure an enabling environment for them to convene,” Benedict said.

“The government must hold the perpetrators involved in the disruption of the water forum to account and send a strong message that the work of civil society must be respected and protected,” he added.

Indonesia has faced criticism for shrinking civic space and muzzling dissent in recent times.

CIVICUS Monitor rated civic space in Indonesia as “Obstructed” in its latest global ranking.

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