Stop the Political Terror Against Peasants in Karangsari!
Arrests of AGRA Activists in Garut, West Java, Indonesia
Jakarta, FPR. Three members of the Alliance of Agrarian Reform Movements (Aliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria – AGRA) in Karangsari village were taken by plain-clothed police officers yesterday, Tuesday 28 August, and are now being held at the Garut district police compound. The three were Mulyana, Dede and Dayat, while the whereabouts of another person, Asep, are still unknown. AGRA has demanded that the police immediately free the activists who have been detained.
These developments were shared by AGRA through a press conference on Thursday, 27 August. Earlier, AGRA had issued a statement that Mulyana, Asep and Dayat had been detained by unknown group of persons, while they were attempting a peaceful demonstration in front of the Garut district police compound. Based on the latest information from local residents, four activists were actually detained, Mulyana, Dede, Dayat and Asep.
The detentions of the four AGRA activists were done separately and forcibly. Mulyana and Dayat were detained earlier, near the Cikajang petrol station, at approxaimately15. 30 local time. A truck carrying the two, along with a group of other peasants, was stopped by a dark blue Kijang jeep with police license plate, in which were 10 plain-clothed officers.
According to witnesses, two of the 10 officers were armed with what appeared to be shotguns. Mulyana and Dayat were forcibly taken and put into the jeep. After they were taken, the vehicle left the site of their arrest.
The second incident occurred not long after the first. This time, Dede, an AGRA leader from Karangsari village, was detained after a trick which carried participants from another demonstration was stopped by three vehicles that carried 20 police officers, four of whom were visibly armed; all were plain-clothed.
This incident took place in front of the Cikajang police station, which the peasants passed on their way back home to Karangsari. The vehicles included a silver Suzuki Karimun and a gray Kijang jeep.
The third arrest was made against Asep, who is also a leader of AGRA in Karangsari. The arrest this time was made in the area of Sodong Siu when the truck that Asep in which traveling stopped for a break at a local restaurant. Asep was detained by six plain-clothed police officers, two of which were seen carrying pistols and shotguns. At this time, Asep’s whereabouts are still not known.
At the time the detentions took place, approximately 200 peasants from Karangsari village were undertaking a peaceful demonstration in front of the Garut district police station, to demand that the police stop intimidation and acts of violence against peasants. As this took place, however, the peasants’ request was met with a harsh reaction in the form of these arrests, which indicate the minimal commitment of the police, and particularly the Garut district police division, to act in the interest of the community.
Agrarian Conflicts since the New Order
AGRA disputes the claim by PTPN VII Condong that the peasants had recently grabbed land that was managed via a land use concession (hak guna usaha or HGU) by a state-owned palm oil plantation. According to AGRA, an action to reclaim this land had been taken by peasants in April 2008, and that the rights to the land had previously belonged to the peasants, before they were usurped by PTPN VIII Condong.
The land under dispute between the peasants and PTPN VIII Condong is an object for land reform distribution that had already been provided to 664 poor farming families, via a formal decree from the State Agrarian Inspector of West Java, dated 16 December 1964, that provided ownership rights. The land that was redistributed covers 275,106 hectares of non-irrigated land and 7.07 hectares of rice farmland. Until now, this decree has never been invalidated.
This land, however, was taken illegally by PTPN VIII Condong in 1972, and was turned into a plantation for cocoa, rubber and, now, palm oil.
Local citizens did not oppose this seizure because they were fearful of being labeled as supporters of PKI, the Indonesian Communist Party; furthermore, some residents spread rumors that the family of former president Suharto was behind the plantation in question. Local residents became even more fearful when PTPN VIII shamelessly conducted acts of intimidation and paid members of the armed forces to undertake scare tactics against them.
The lives of local residents worsened in 1995, when the government seized 12 hectares of land that had been in the possession of 65 Karangsari families. The reason given was that the land was then needed for the construction of the south Java highway.
The negative impact of this was felt by residents who were at that point landless, but the houses and farmland of 11 families – including 463 coconut trees – were knocked down to make way for the road. While they never received compensation for this, some are still pursuing this case through the Legal Aid Institute (LBH) in Bandung, and acknowledge that they are still being threatened because of their claims in this case.
As a result, village residents – at least 4,500 people – were forced to cultivate an increasingly limited area of land, or become fishers. During times when the seas are high and the weather uncooperative for fishing, and along with the high costs of agricultural production, the costs of living are no longer bearable for small-scale peasants with such limited land.
Driven by these needs, some residents had been seeking to cultivate land that was under the PTPN VIII concession, to plant food crops for daily needs. As had happened in 2000, however, one peasant who attempted this was sentenced to eight months in prison after being accused of land theft by PTPN VIII Condong.
Reviving Demand for Land Rights
According to information from LBH-Bandung, since 2003 peasants have been demanding a return of their land rights, which were usurped by PTPN VIII Condong. Since 2006, residents have worked through the AGRA national peasants’ association and with LBH-Bandung to demand their land rights, and have formed a village committee in Karangsari to which Dayat was appointed as coordinator.
Since joining with AGRA and forming this village committee, Karangsari peasants have been reinvigorated to fight for their social and economic rights, and particularly their rights to land that had been taken by PTPN VIII Condong. Through a series of demonstrations, peasants have voiced their demands for the return of this land to the people of Karangsari.
In March 2008, peasants sought a dialogue to with PTPN VIII Condong in order to express their demands directly but this was arrogantly dismissed, and force was used by company workers to secure the plantation area. This generated a spontaneous reaction by peasants, in which a PT Condong security post was burned down. One month later, on 30 April 2008, thousands of citizens from Karangsari and Cigadog villages demolished an oil palm tree in the concession area, an action taken by residents growing impatient with the lack of response on the part of the plantation.
This action triggered a wave of intimidation and terror against peasants, which began when 10 peasants from Karangsari were called before the district police. Nine of these 10 were held as criminal suspects for arson, with the one other person charged with violating the Plantations Law. Without a clear explanation, some of these 10 were released back to their village.
On 19 June, a mobile police unit with at least 126 personnel (more, according to some village residents) was set up an operational camp in the village, in response to a request by Heri Sunardi, director of PTPN VIII Condong. Since then, the police have pursued and detained peasants, based on accusations of being involved in the arson and demolitions. On July 8, as reported in the daily paper Harian Seputar Indonesia, the mobile police hunted down nine Karangsari residents, who were allegedly the organizers of the group which burned down the security post and palm oil plantation in April.
Based on accounts from Walhi-West Java, on 18 July the first arrest, of Ayi Mulyadin Bin, was made by a plantation worker, who then turned him over to the mobile police. Ayi was one of the 10 peasants called to the district police office in June. On 15 July, two other peasants were arrested in their homes; all three were at that point held without a warrant. Also, on 15 July, at approximately 20.00 at night, the police attempted to arrest Dayat, who succeeded to escape. In August, five additional peasants were arrested on related charges.
Amid these developments, the Garut district government formed a team to investigate the land conflict, called the Team of 11. However this team was not able to work optimally to address detentions by the mobile police, which were still continuing. According to an AGRA representative, it was not possible to participate in the conflict resolution process while these forms of intimidation against local activists continued.
This pattern of arrest without proper procedure, accompanied with physical and psychological terror, is a consequence of the presence of the mobile police unit in Karangsari village. In response, on 14 August, hundreds of peasants from Karangsari, along with peasants from other villages in West Java, Banten and Lampung, peacefully demonstrated in front of the national police headquarters.
This action intended to call on the police to stop intimidation and violence against peasants involved in land conflict cases. Peasants from Karangsari took the opportunity to share their concerns over the actions of the mobile police unit and to call on the national police chief to withdraw the unit from Karangsari village. However, no representative from the national police leadership came out to hear or respond to the citizens’ demands.
The peasants did not, however, stop at that point. The following Tuesday, 26 August, nearly 200 peasants from Karangsari, accompanied by student organizations from Garut district, undertook a peaceful protest in front of the West Java governor’s office in Bandung, against the intimidation and detentions that the police were conducting. Peasants from Karangsari were able to get an audience with the Garut police department, which generated several key agreements:
1. In the land conflict between the Karangsari peasants and PT Condong, the police should not side with PT Condong.
2. The Garut district police should stop the arrests against peasants in Karangsari
3. The Garut district police should not become involved in the conflict between the peasants and PT Condong
Based on this agreement, peasants returned home. However, on the way back to Karangsari, security units stopped their vehicles and made arrests of four participants in the demonstration. Three are being held at the Garut district police station, while the location of one other is yet unknown. AGRA, along with the families of the activists who were detained, demands that their status be made clear and that they are released without further restrictions.
The Police and National Land Agency: State Terror!
In this statement, AGRA demands that the police immediately release its activists that have been detained, including the one person whose whereabouts are still unknown. It also demands an end to these forms of terror that are directed against those peasants who are part of the land dispute against PTPN VIII Condong.
According to AGRA, the arrest of the peasant leaders of its Karangsari village member organization is a form of state terror that seeks to force a conclusion to the land conflict through the use of violence.
The demand to end the involvement of the state security apparatus, such as the police and military, in land conflicts has long been voiced. The involvement of security forces, including both the military and the police, only adds to the difficulty in resolving the problems that are faced.
Despite these calls, the current government has in fact legitimized the involvement of the military and police in land conflicts. Through the National Land Agency (Badan Pertanahan Nasional or BPN), the involvement of the police in resolving land conflicts has actually been given legality, through Joint Decree (SKB) No.3 of 2007, which was signed by BPN head Joyo Winoto, and the Decree of the National Police No. B/576/III/2007 that was signed by police chief Sutanto.
Following this SKB, the Ad-Hoc Land Conflict Team was formed, which works to determine which land conflicts are civil cases and which are criminal cases. This joint decree has given legitimacy to a number of actions of violence, intimidation, physical abuse and destruction of peasants’ land.
According to Erpan Faryadi, secretary-general of AGRA, this SKB clearly is not based in the root causes of the current land conflicts in Indonesia, which are not simply civil or criminal issues, but rather political issues. “Land conflicts in Indonesia are actually caused by the existence of a vast monopolization of land by large-scale plantations, forest concession holders and mining companies which are shrinking the area of productive land available for peasants,” stated Erpan.
Actions to reclaim lands that have been managed as plantation, forestry or mining lands is a form of self-preservation for small-scale peasants in the face of aggression by large commercial entities that monopolize natural resources. Erpan continued, “Given that the majority of Indonesian peasants are small-scale food producers, there is a small probability they can monopolize land on a scale that it would weaken agrarian systems or give birth to forms of social conflict.”
Therefore, according to Erpan Faryadi, the current government must give order to the possession and control of land by reaffirming ceilings on the amount of land that can be managed by plantation, forestry and mining companies, so as not to create a monopoly and generate social conflicts within communities.
Call for Solidarity
As the situation in Karangsari village continues to worsen, particularly in the wake of the arrests of peasant-activists on 26 August, AGRA is requesting solidarity and support for the peasants in Karangsari.
AGRA also invites civil society organizations – and particularly organizations that support peasants’ associations, supporters of agrarian reform and others who defend the rights of peasants – to join in demanding that these activists are released, by calling on the Garut district police office and West Java provincial police department, through the following fax numbers:
• Garut district police office: +62-262-540770
• West Java provincial police department: +62-22-7805123
The arrest of peasants in Karangsari village demonstrates that the struggle by peasants to demand their land rights is still a long one, and their campaign still faces strong opposition. As long as this struggle is still incomplete, democratization in Indonesia will remain an unfulfilled dream.***