In a move certain to upset environmental activists, the Supreme Court has sentenced Heri Budiawan, an opponent of gold mining in Banyuwangi, East Java, to four years in prison, far longer than the 10 month sentence handed down by the lower courts.
The ruling by the country’s top court will see Heri, also known by his alias Budi Pego, put back behind bars after he was previously detained on accusations of promoting communism.
Heri was arrested in September 2017 for allegedly displaying a banner with a hammer and sickle logo during a rally to oppose the operations of a gold-mining company in the Tumpang Pitu Mountains in East Java. He was released from detention on July 1.
The mountain range, which is located in Sumberagung, is considered the second-largest gold and copper reserve in the country, after Grasberg in Papua.
It is operated by two subsidiaries of PT Merdeka Copper and Gold, a publicly listed mining unit of investment firm Saratoga Group.
According to the company’s profile submitted to the Indonesia Stock Exchange, the company’s board of commissioners includes Garibaldi Thohir, the brother of Erick Thohir, a businessman who heads the presidential campaign team of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
On Jan. 23, Banyuwangi District Court sentenced Heri to 10 months imprisonment for violating the Criminal Code’s articles on crimes against state security. His legal team later appealed the ruling at the East Java High Court, which upheld the Banyuwangi court verdict on March 14.
Heri later filed a cassation petition to the Supreme Court, the final legal attempt possible to overturn a sentence in the country’s judicial system. The Supreme Court rejected Heri’s appeal on Oct. 16 and extended Heri’s sentence from 10 months to four years.
The director of the Surabaya Legal Aid Institute (LBH), Wachid Habibullah, who assisted Heri during his trial, said that Heri’s legal team had yet to receive a copy of the court’s ruling.
He also questioned the court’s decision to extend Heri’s sentence. “There is not enough evidence to prove that Heri used the symbols,” Wachid said on Thursday, arguing that accusations of communist sympathies were often used to criminalize environmental activists.
Heri is not the first environmental activist to be imprisoned or detained for defending the rights of locals against mining and infrastructure developments that cause environmental degradation.
Data from the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute (YLBHI) revealed that as many as 50 environmental activists faced criminalization in 2017. Among them were Sawin and Sukma, two environmental activists from Indramayu, West Java, who were arrested on Sept. 24 on allegations of defaming state symbols. Both had earlier protested the development of a coal-fired powered plant in their village.
In 2017, Kendeng farmer Joko Prianto was reported to the police for allegedly faking signatures on a petition opposing a plan to construct a cement factory, which the farmer had given to the Supreme Court to support his lawsuit.
Separately, Supreme Court spokesperson Suhadi said a copy of the sentence might not have been provided to Heri’s legal team as the court might still be processing the ruling. “As the ruling is still recent, there’s a chance the court is still processing the file before its sends a copy to [Heri’s] legal team,” Suhadi said.
Members of the Banyuwangi community have opposed mining operations since 1997. In 2006, the Banyuwangi regency administration granted a permit to PT Indo Multi Niaga to conduct mining operations in the area. The company then transferred the permit to Merdeka Copper Gold through its subsidiaries,
Previously, Tumpang Pitu was planned to be designated a protected forest area. However, on Nov. 19, 2013, then-environment and forestry minister Zulkifli Hasan issued a decree to change Tumpang Pitu’s status from a protected forest to a production forest, allowing mining operations to begin.
Source: Dyanin Pangestika
23 November 2018