Indonesia: Government must immediately stop human rights violation and judicial harassment against land and environmental defenders

(Bangkok/Jakarta, 4 May 2020) – The death of Hermanus Bin Bison, an indigenous farmer who died in custody after being denied medical treatment, is a result of the unjust and inhumane treatment against the land and environmental rights defenders in Indonesia, and it must cease.

In a joint statement today, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), and seven of its Indonesian members urge the Government of Indonesia to investigate the alleged human rights violations against Hermanus Bin Bison and stop any further attempt of harassment and criminalisation against other land and environmental rights defenders in the country.

The seven members are: the Alliance of Independent Journalists Indonesia (AJI), the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS), the Human Rights Working Group (HRWG), the Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (Imparsial), the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI), the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI), and the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM)

Hermanus Bin Bison, one of the land and environmental rights defenders who was arrested for protesting against a palm oil company in Central Kalimantan, died on 26 April 2020 at midnight from health complications exacerbated by an overcrowded and unhygienic prison cell. Requests from his family, legal counsel, and medical doctor to enable him to receive adequate healthcare while in detention and to relocate him to a proper facility were denied due to unclear bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, the judicial process continued, forcing Hermanus, who was already suffering from an illness prior to the detention, to be present in the trial in a wheelchair while his health deteriorated.

‘Denying Hermanus’ right to health is a form of injustice and violation of human rights. This incident shows how human rights defenders are treated by the Government, law enforcement apparatuses, business owner, and the judicial system in Indonesia – with bias,’ said Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu,
Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA.

On 17 February, Hermanus was arrested together with another land and environmental rights defender, Dilik Bin Asap, for harvesting palm fruit from the land belonging to the community of Penyang Village in Central Kalimantan which was illegally acquired by the palm oil company PT Hamparan Masawit Bangun Persada (PT HMBP).1 They had protested against the company for conducting an illegal operation

outside its concession agreement since 2006,2 yet the company never received any legal sanction from the local and central Government.

Another land and environmental rights defender, James Watt, was arrested on 7 March for reporting the Penyang Village case to Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) and Victim and Witness Protection Agency (LPSK). The trial for James Watt and Dilik Bin Asap is still ongoing and is scheduled to be held in the Sampit District Court today.

FORUM-ASIA and its members condemn the human rights violations against Hermanus, including the violation of the right to life as a non-derogable right, and obstruction to access to healthcare leading to
his death.

‘We call on the Komnas HAM, and other relevant government institutions such as the Ombudsman, the Judicial Commission, and the National Police Commission to conduct an independent investigation into the responsibilities of the judges, prosecutors, the police, and all related parties involved in the judicial process,’ urged the rights groups.

Aside from fully cooperating with the Komnas HAM, the Indonesian Government must at the same time immediately put a halt to the longstanding agrarian case, by ending the judicial harassment against
James Wyatt and Dilik Bin Asap, providing proper remedies to the defenders and the community, and imposing legally binding sanction to the corporation and its parent company.

‘It is a litmus test for the Government of Indonesia, particularly President Jokowi, whether to side with land and environmental defenders who fight for their individual and community’s rights or succumb to the corporate power and greed,’ added Shamini.
For further information, please contact:
– East Asia and ASEAN Programme, FORUM-ASIA,
For media inquiries, please contact:
– Yi-Lan, Communication and Media Programme, FORUM-ASIA,