Local Politics and Terrorism

With a single rap of his gavel, the judge sealed the fate of Yannas and imposed a 16-year prison sentence on him for his part in the premeditated murder of a PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP) employee in July 2011.  Yannas was ostensibly an “environmental activist.”  But for some reason murder doesn’t seem to be much of an issue for environmental activists when one of their number breaks the law.

The murder occurred in Sei Kuat, Lukit village, Padang island, Meranti regency, Riau. The victim’s name was Chaidir, a heavy equipment operator who had a wife and infant son. Chaidir was operating an excavator when he was shot three times with a muzzleloaded rifle and a handgun before was burned along with the heavy machine.

After committing this cold blooded murder as part of a twisted demonstration to defend the environment, Yannas escaped and was on the run for two years.When he was finally caught he admitted the demonstration was organized by the Riau Farmers Union (STR), led by Muhammad Riduan. Yannas also told the police that the mastermind behind the violent demonstration was Riduan himself. Knowing he was implicated in the murder, Riduan fled and went into hiding.  But he was eventually caught in Bandar Lampung. Riduan is currently serving 1.5 years in jail and is awaiting trial for his part in the premeditated murder of the excavator operator.

Riduan’s track record as an environmental and political activist can not be underestimated. The proof is through the STR, a local grass roots group, which under his leadership succeeded in influencing the people to ask for land compensation from PT RAPP. The STR also brought some of its people to Jakarta to do a mouth sewing demontration against PT RAPP in front of the MPR / DPR / DPD office in December 2011. Riduan was with the HTI and PKS before he joined the radical left.

The environmental activists’ proximity to local marginal communities, which feel neglected by the authorities, seems to be a certain strategy for them to be able to smooth their protest plans in the name of saving the environment. Indeed, whatever the common people see as a good action will certainly get support.

Riduan and his friends also apparently get support from Senator Intsiawati Ayus, the member of Riau DPD. Ayus is very concerned about environmental issues in Riau and is critical of the companies that are considered to cause environmental damage to her homeland. She also has a connection with the initiator of Free Riau (Riau Merdeka, later renamed Sovereign Riau), Tabrani Rab. Sovereign Riau is a peace movement initiated by Rab in March 1999, which is concerned that the exploitation of Riau’s natural resources is the result of a conspiracy between the central goverment and businesmen/corporations. But serious questions about Sovereign Riau should be asked.

Ayus attended the 14-year anniversary of Sovereign Riau at Rab’s residence on 15 March 2013.  Also present were a number of campus and environmental activists whose names were not mentioned. This event indicates there is a special relationship between the two, whether it is based on ordinary friendship or for political expediency.

Riduan and his colleagues, who had joined under the flag of Serikat Tani Riau/Farmers Union Riau (STR), openly claimed their political views inclined to Marxism, which is still banned by the Indonesian Constitution. Whether Ayus has similar views is still a question. However, the Parliamentary Cooperation Forum Practice and a number of representatives, including Senator Ayus, have built relationships with politically leftist countries such as Peru, Chile, and Bolivia.

There is no official statement yet from Ayus as to whether she really supports Yannas, Riduan, et al since the poor and the militant left are her political constituents. The editorial team has sent a number of questions to her via email and mobile text messages but has received no response. Her silence therefore prevents us from determining whether she condemns or supports the demonstration that led to the murder of the excavator operator.

Actually, the incidence of activists breaking the law in an effort to show their love for the environment is not unusual. For example, two environmental activists, Director of WALHI South Sumatra Anwar Sadat Sadat ST and Organizing Management Staff of WALHI South Sumatra Dedek Chaniago, allegedly vandalized a South Sumatra Police Headquarter during a demonstration on 29 January 2013. In doing so they violated Article 170 Paragraph 2 of Criminal Code Law (KUHP).  Conviction of their acts carries a maximum prison term of seven years.  A second indictment for violation of Article 160 KUHP was also issued.

In Sumatra, however, the militants went further. Their actions led to murder and the burning of heavy equipment belonging to PT RAPP.  Their action also triggered discussion of the issue of terrorism because the act was seen as an act of terrorism rather than an action by activists fighting for the rights of the environment and society . The question which then arises is whether this was just another murder or was it a new form of terrorism since the group in Riau drew on a national conflict in Bima and Mesuji.  The latter venue now has the foot prints of jihadists and PRD members as well, according to a new study published by the renowned terrorism expert Sidney Jones.

According to Loebby Loqman, a legal and state security expert, terrorism is an activity whose objective is to make other people feel fear that it might attract the attention of people, a group or a nation. Usually the act of terror is used if no other way can be taken to carry out the will of the terrorist. Terrorism is then used as a psychological weapon to create an atmosphere of panic, uncertainty, and creating public mistrust of the ability of government to protect the people and to force the people or groups to obey the will of terrorists. So, acts of terror are not addressed personally to any particular victim. The actions are carried out to give a specific message to the public, governments, institutions, or to targeted agencies.

Act No. 15/2003 on Eradication of Terrorism, Article 6 and Article 7, states that any person is guilty of terrorism if  intentional violence or the threat of violence creates an environment of terror, causes mass casualties, deprives freedom, or eliminates the life of the others. Since the murder in Sumatra created an atmosphere of terror and fear this shows the potential link with terrorism. Since the act was committed by environmental activists, however, it cannot be categorized as an act of terrorism by the judiciary – yet. Nevertheless, the people are wondering if the action constitutes a new kind of terrorism.

It is true that not all activists commit violence. Fighting for something that one believes to be true is also part of human rights. However, when activists commit illegal acts the public should not defend them, especially when enviromental “warriors” take another human’s right to live.

By Difa Kusumadewi & Rina Hutajulu

About Rina Hutajulu 17 Articles
Rina Hutajulu is an independent journalist for the Dekker Centre focusing on political studies of civil society movements and environmental issues in Indonesia. She writes for various on line media and print media as well. Rina is based in Jakarta.

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