Indonesian environmental activists condemned the arrest this week of one of their own for allegedly displaying a banner displaying communist symbols during an anti-mining protest in East Java province back in April.
Communism is outlawed in Indonesia, and activist Heri Budiawan (alias Budi Pego), has been in custody since his Sept. 4 arrest by the Banyuwangi District Attorney’s office.
“Budi Pego has been accused of spreading communism by displaying a banner with a hammer-and-sickle printed on it during a protest against the local gold mine operation,” fellow activist Agnes Deva told BenarNews. She is the coordinator of For Banyuwangi, an organization seeking environmental justice in the region.
She said Budi, 37, a well-known local anti-mining activist, was picked up on suspicion of being involved with the banned Indonesia Communist Party (PKI).
On Oct. 18, 1965, 62 members of Ansor, the youth wing of the largest Indonesian Muslim organization, were killed by PKI sympathizers in a Banyuwangi regency, leading the government to declare communism illegal. At least 500,000 Indonesians died during a nationwide anti-communist purge that targeted suspected PKI members in 1965 and 1966.
Police official M. Lufti said Budi was arrested for a crime against national security tied to a protest rally against the Tumpang Pitu gold mine on April 4.
The criminal statute states: “Those who publicly commit crimes verbally, written, or through other media, spread or develop communism, Marxism, Leninism in any attempt, will be sentenced to a maximum of 12 years in prison.”
Budi’s lawyer, Subagio, said police fabricated the complaint against his client, adding they could not present evidence of the banner other than a set of photographs of a banner with a hammer-and-sickle.
“Such arrests have been commonly practiced by law enforcers once there is a protest held against mining companies,” said Subagio, who uses one name, according to Detik.com. He plans to file a petition to suspend the charges.
Agnes said police did not have enough evidence to charge Budi, adding she questioned the banner’s authenticity. She is confident it was not displayed by Budi and other protesters.
“We all clearly remember there were 11 banners made to be displayed during the protest and none of those had a hammer and sickle printed on them,” she said.
“Local police and residents were also there. If the activists made such a banner displaying the hammer and sickle, they would have been aware. Police could have stopped the protest and arrested anyone joining in,” she said.
On Thursday, Budi’s house was quiet.
“His family told us they would no longer be available to meet the press for any kind of interview,” Agnes said.
Herlambang P. Wiratraman, head of the legal and human rights studies at the University of Airlangga, said Budi’s arrest was tied to his activism against mining companies, and had nothing to do with the communist party. He said the stigma against communism in Indonesia was used to stop activists’ efforts against mining companies.
He said the protest erupted because a deal allowing the mining operation did not include enough input from the community, along with a lack of public information regarding the project including potential environmental damage.
Tekad Garuda, a land sovereignty advocacy group, said there had been five attempts to file criminal charges against 11 activists protesting against the mine.
Such arrests would run counter to the Environmental Protection and Management act established in 2009 that states, those who fight for their right to live in a healthy and proper environment cannot be charged with crimes or civil penalties.
In September 2015, environmental activist Salim Kancil was killed and his cousin assaulted while they protested against sand mining in East Java. About six months later, 35 suspects, including two local government officials, were charged with the assaults.