Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Police and Military Violence Used in Plans for Construction of Airport

More than 1000 police and military personnel were mobilised yesterday, 16 February 2016, in the latest move to force villagers in Kulon Progo off their land to make way for an airport. The police and military were used to allow the government to begin scoping of the land. The local community that have organised resistance to the land grab immediately gathered in response to the presence of the police and military in their villages. The community’s requests for negotiation were rejected and instead their gathering was met with heavy repression. As recounted in the community’s press statement:

“Violence like a rain of punches and kicks as well as other forms of intimidation by the police. Even to the point where children were trampled on when the police were breaking up the gathering of villagers. There was a local that was also strangled and fainted. Even several of the peasants’ possessions including a motorbike and a table of chilli seeds were damaged. This was all because the police used force and violence to gain entry.”

Plans for the construction of an airport in this coastal rural area began in 2011 when the government signed a contract with an Indian investor. Since then the local, regional and national government have been trying to find ways to force the villagers off their land. The community however has been there for generations and make a living by planting chillies, peanuts and melons. Culturally the land is also significant to them, and even from an environmental point of view the community are concerned construction of an airport would put the area at risk of a tsunami as natural sandbanks would be destroyed.

Their protests have been met with heavy repression and intimidation. Pak Agus, one of the community leaders, received a visit from police dressed in plain clothes one night a few weeks back. As he opened the door two guns were held up against him, left and right above his waist. They warned him to stop protesting, to just accept the airport construction and be quiet. But Pak Agus and the rest of the community will not be quiet as they know that they have rights to the land and that if they lose their land they will lose their livelihood, culture and community.  

This is not a unique story in Indonesia. Currently there are hundreds of such projects being implemented with the same harsh repression and disregard for the local communities. The victims are many, such as Salim Kancil who was murdered in September last year in East Java for protesting the development of sand mining. The community in Kulon Progo are worried that it will only be a matter of time before their struggle also results in a death.  In the repression yesterday alone 15 locals were injured.

Messages and statements of support can be sent to Pak Agus at email: agus.kanthus98@gmail.com

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Release Rita: Migrant Workers Not to Blame for Drug Smuggling

Rita Krisdianti: Threatened with the Death Penalty
 The Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Union (SBMI) along with other unions and organisations are demanding the release of Rita Krisdianti. Rita is a migrant worker from East Java who was arrested in 2013 at Penang airport in Malaysia. The suitcase she was carrying contained 4kg of crystal meth, but Rita is not to blame. She is just the latest migrant worker to unknowingly find themselves at the bottom of a drug smuggling chain and now potentially facing the death penalty. Her case was to come before court last week but has been delayed.

Rita worked as a house maid in Hong Kong until early 2013 when her contract was stopped. The agency then moved her to Macau but after not receiving further work she planned to return home to Indonesia. Before departing though, a friend offered her a job working for a textile and clothing business. In July 2013 Rita was sent to New Delhi, India where she was given a suitcase which she was told contained clothing materials for the business. She was told to deliver it to a customer in Penang, Malaysia. Rita travelled to Penang to deliver the materials, only to be arrested and told that the suitcase actually contained 4kg of narcotics.

The case was to be brought to court 28 January 2016 but has since been delayed. Rita could be facing the death penalty. Rita is not the only victim of such harsh laws that ignore the situation of migrant workers. More than 200 Indonesian migrant workers are facing the death penalty overseas.

As SBMI explains, the majority of Indonesian migrant workers are females, from poor families, with low education, facing several social issues. Such conditions make them more susceptible to offers of work that can end up involving drugs.

Migrant workers often face terrible conditions and even violence from their employers overseas. The experiences of the two other female migrant workers from Rita’s village demonstrate the many problems they face. One of them has been a victim of sexual abuse by her employer in Singapore. The other developed a cyst while overseas but was assisted by SBMI and was able to receive medical treatment.  These are not uncommon stories among migrant workers who face huge debts, violence and exploitation. The dependency of sending and destination countries on migrant labour means governments are often not willing to take a strong stance on the rights of migrants.

Ramches from SBMI has said they are disappointed by the lack of quick response from the Jokowi-JK government in response to Rita’s court case. “Will Rita’s fate end up the same as other Indonesian migrant workers that have already been executed?”

Workers in Indonesia have begun to show their solidarity with Rita by changing their display pictures on Facebook. The hashtag #SaveRitaKrisdianti has also been widely taken up. Demonstrations have also taken place outside the Malaysian embassy in Jakarta demanding the release of Rita and safety for other Indonesian migrant workers facing the death penalty. 
Contract workers demonstrate in support of Rita
Demonstration in front of Malaysia Embassy, Jakarta 28 January