Banten farmers arrested and beaten

Down to Earth No 52 February 2002

Forty seven farmers were rounded up by armed police, Brimob, forestry company staff and hired thugs in a November pre-dawn raid on Cibaliung village, Banten province, Java. Some were handcuffed and beaten during the forcible eviction from land now claimed by privatised forestry company, PT Perhutani. The farmers were denied access to lawyers. The evictions went ahead even though the Cibaliung farmers have documented proof of ownership of the land and pay taxes on it. While in detention, the farmers' homes and all their possessions including their clothes were burned. Their crops were destroyed. The farmers have been threatened with further arrests if they try to re-occupy the land and have been told they face indefinite detention if they try to raise support for their case in Jakarta.

Nine out of the 49 farmers arrested in total are still in detention and face charges of timber theft and forest destruction under the 1999 Forestry Law. All but one are members of the Banten Peasants' Union, which is affiliated to the National Federation of Peasants Unions (FSPI). The house of the union's secretary general, one of the detainees, was ransacked by Brimob while he was away. The trial of one of the nine started in late January, with charges of theft, destruction and cutting down forests being brought. More trials are due to start in early February.

The evictions and arrests are seen as part of a concerted effort to destroy organised peasant opposition to the combined interests of government, company and security forces in the area.

The farmers made a good living from durian, teak and other cash crops on their land until 1980 when a government reforestation programme was launched in the village. The local government, assisted by the military, ordered local people to grow tree crops on the land, which was then claimed by Perhutani. As the trees grew taller, the farmers could no longer grow other crops on the land and were forced into poverty. In 1999, around 300 families re-occupied 100 hectares of their land. As a result 17 people were arrested and sentenced to 1-2 years in jail. This was a set-back to the campaign, but the need for land was so great that 150 families staged another re-occupation in 2000, this time taking back 200 ha.

The November raid is the latest response by Perhutani to reassert its claim over the land.

The Banten peasants union is organising a letter of solidarity with the detained farmers, to be presented at their trial. They are demanding the return of the land stolen by Perhutani, the release of the nine detainees, legal action against those committing violence acts against the farmers and compensation for the losses suffered by the farmers as a result of the November raid.

(For further details contact / if you would like to support this petition, contact: Phone/fax: +62-21-8300553)

(Source: 'A picture of the land dispute between peasant farmers and the state forestry company, Perum Perhutani.', by Banten Peasants Farmers Union and FSPI, 14/Nov/0, for details of the case. English translation by Teresa Birks.)