Gold mine protester tried for spreading communism as red scare sweeps Indonesia

Jewel Topsfield, Amilia Rosa

Banyuwangi, East Java: An anti-gold mine protester has become the latest person to be tried under draconian anti-communist laws in Indonesia.

The case comes as the spectre of a resurgent red peril has once again inflamed the country more than 50 years after the leftist movement was brutally crushed.

In circumstances that local media have described as reminiscent of Suharto’s authoritarian New Order regime, Heri Budiawan could face up to 12 years in jail for spreading communism.

Prosecutor Budhi Cahyono said banners made by protesters against a gold mine in Banyuwangi in East Java on April 4 contained a hammer and sickle drawing in red spray paint like that used by the defunct Indonesian Communist Party, the PKI.

“The defendant led the activities of the people protesting and did not stop or prevent the placement of the banner with the hammer and sickle symbol identical to the PKI symbol, knowing that communism is forbidden in Indonesia,” Mr Budhi said in the indictment in the Banyuwangi District Court.

“The defendant’s act was against the law … in regards to crimes against the security of the nation.”

But environmental groups claim the gold mine, PT Bumi Suksesindo, is using the communism allegations as a tactic to shut down protests against alleged environmental damage caused by the mine.

The man who filed the complaint to police about the alleged hammer and sickle image in April was the then senior manager of external affairs at the gold mine.

Mr Heri strenuously denied the allegations. “None of the banners we did had hammer and sickle drawings on them,” he told Fairfax Media.

Mr Heri claimed there was no way he would invoke the former communist party in his fight against the gold mine.

“I am against the PKI, I don’t want it in Indonesia either. If there was an anti-PKI rally I would join it.”

A surge in anti-communist sentiment and paranoia about the resurgence of the PKI swept Indonesia in the lead up to the 52nd anniversary of the murder of six army generals on September 30.

The PKI was blamed for the aborted coup, which triggered the purge of between 500,000 and one million people with suspected leftist leanings in a dark chapter of Indonesian history that remains deeply sensitive.

Last month police were forced to fire tear gas and water cannons to disperse anti-communist protesters who falsely claimed an event at the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute Foundation was a meeting of communist supporters.

Military chief General Gatot Nurmantyo ordered screenings of the 1984 propaganda film Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (Betrayal of the Communists), a blood thirsty depiction of the death of the generals at the hands of the communists.

Even Indonesian President Joko Widodo – who was targeted by a smear campaign falsely claiming he was the son of communists during the last election campaign – tweeted on October 1: “Don’t let the cruelty of the PKI reoccur.”

Jangan sampai kekejaman PKI terulang lagi. Jangan berikan ruang kepada ideologi2 yg bertentangan dengan Pancasila -Jkw pic.twitter.com/HEEtMTWss9

— Joko Widodo (@jokowi) October 1, 2017

“Although the PKI was violently obliterated in the mid-60s and communism is a dead letter globally which has no popular support in Indonesia, it is alive and well as Indonesia’s number one bogeyman,” Dr Tim Lindsey, the Director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society at Melbourne University wrote recently.

“Communism remains the label of choice to smear progressive opponents.”

Mr Heri is convinced the case against him has been made up because of his fight against the gold mine, BT Bumi Suksesindo, which he claimed had destroyed the local forest and and was responsible for mud floods.

“It’s all made up. I know I am not guilty,” he told Fairfax Media. “I am not an activist, just a villager. The mine is destroying our livelihood.”

The mine could not be reached for comment.

The trial is continuing in the Banyuwangi District Court.

Fandi, from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI) in East Java, said this was not the first time locals had been criminalised to stop the fight against the mine.

He said the PKI symbol might be ancient history but it was an effective weapon. “It is to divert attention from the issues with the mine,” Fandi told Fairfax Media. “The area was downgraded from protected forest to an industrial zone to allow the mine to operate on it.”

Australian National University Associate Professor Marcus Mietzner said that rather than an indication of hardening anti-communist stances in Banyuwangi, this appeared to be a convenient pretext for interests associated with a large corporation to support cases against those rejecting its projects.

“Some of the other events – especially the attack on the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute Foundation – are more closely related to the ideological and political dynamics ahead of 2019,” Dr Mietzner said.

“Obviously, the goal is to somehow associate Jokowi with communism – a move he has countered by portraying himself as being as staunchly anti-communist as his critics. As a result, pro-democracy and leftist NGOs are cornered from two fronts: the alliance of Islamist and pro-military forces on the one side, and the Jokowi government’s attempts to appear anti-communist on the other.”

 

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