The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts to the Government of Indonesia on 12 September 2023. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, giving the Government time to reply. Regrettably, the Government did not reply within this time frame. If a reply is received it will be posted on the UN Special Procedures communications database.
At the time of publication, Heri Budiawan is still serving his sentence in Banyuwangi Prison. There has been no response to human rights organisations’ calls to grant him a presidential amnesty.
This is a shorter version of the original communication.
Topic: the alleged arbitrary detention of Heri Budiawan, whose original sentence of ten months in prison, which he completed in 2018, was extended to a period of four years.
Mr. Heri Budiawan (also known as Budi Pego) is an environmental human rights defender and farmer from the Sumberagung village, in the Pesanggaran District, located in Banyuwangi Regency in Indonesia. Since 2014, he has actively protested on behalf of his community, namely campaigning against the environmental impacts of gold-mining activity in the Tumpang Pitu and Salakan mountains in East Java. Such impacts not only refer to the detrimental effect of mining activities on the natural environment, but also concern their repercussions on the safe and healthy environment of five villages in the local area, specifically the villages of Sumberagung, Pesanggaran, Sumbermulyo, Kandangan, and Sarongan.
On 19 November 2013, a decree (No.826/MENHUT-II/2013) stipulated that 1,942 hectares incorporating the Tumpang Pitu mountain and its surrounding area were to be allocated as a protected forest zone.
On 19 November 2013, however, the decision to conserve this habitat was subsequently reversed by the then Minister of Forestry, and the area was rezoned as an “industrial forest”. This designation was made in spite of concerns that the mountain and the south coast of Banyuwangi, downhill of where this vicinity is located, are considered to be disaster-prone areas.
Fears of the risk of disaster that a mining project could precipitate were also made real in August of 2016 when the Banyuwangi regency coastal area suffered flooding emanating from an area in Tumpang Pitu which had been cleared for an upcoming mining project, after the Kapak river overflowed. This damage to the livelihoods of local farmers and fishermen, whose estimated 300 hectares of crops and shores were affected by the disaster, resulted in a loss of hundreds of millions of Rupiahs. The use of cyanide in the project, as well as the pollution of rivers with byproducts of the mineral extraction, such as ore, have also been reported. Moreover, the destruction of the ecological habitat has seen the displacement of wild animals which have been sighted with more frequency on nearby farmland.
In March 2017, production began on a gold mining project in the forest mountain area of Tumpang Pitu and Salakan. This mining project was led by PT Merdeka Copper Gold and operated by its two subsidiaries, PT Bumi Sukses Indo (BSI) and PT Damai Sukses Indo (DSI), who were granted licenses by Banyuwangi Regent to mine the respective plots of 4,998 hectares and 6,623 hectares back in 2012.
The case of Mr. Heri Budiawan:
On 4 April 2017, Mr. Budiawan coordinated a peaceful assembly against the gold mine in Salakan Mountain along with other members of the community. Together they called for licenses of the mining companies to be revoked.
On 5 April 2017, police reportedly accused Mr. Budiawan of drawing Communist-affiliated “hammer and sickle” symbols on the eleven sings used as part of the protest on the road from the Red Island Beach to the Pesanggaran District Office.
On 4 September 2017, Mr. Budiawan was arrested allegedly for spreading the Communist ideology.
On 24 January 2018, Mr. Budiawan was sentenced to 10 months in prison by the Banyuwangi District Court, in the East Java Province for ‘crimes against state security’ as per article 107a of Law No.27/1999. He was found guilty of three charges including spreading Communist ideology, promoting Communist ideology as the leader of a protest, and failure to notify local authorities of a protest, in accordance with Law No. 9/1998.
On 29 January 2018, Mr. Budiawan and the public prosecutor filed appeals at the High Court of Surabaya, East Java.
On 14 March 2018, Mr. Budiawan’s appeal was reportedly rejected and his conviction was upheld in a judgement by the the East Java High Court, who ruled in favour of the lower court.
In response to this, Mr. Budiawan’s legal team once again challenged the ruling and appealed this decision to the Supreme Court.
On 1 July 2018, Mr. Budiawan was released from prison after completing his 10-month sentence.
On 23 February 2018, Mr. Budiawan’s counsel submitted a legal memory of appeal to the High Court.
On 16 October 2018, Mr. Budiawan’s cassation appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court. In addition to this, the court ruled to increase his sentence from the ten months, which at that point he had already served, to four years imprisonment. However, the human rights defender and his legal team were reportedly not informed of the court’s decision and did not receive a copy of the verdict.
In the months that followed, between November and December 2018, Mr. Budiawan was issued with two summons from the Banyuwangi Prosecutor’s Office to serve his sentence as per the Supreme Court’s verdict.
However, in the following years, there were no further updates on Mr. Budiawan’s incarceration, since law enforcement authorities reportedly did not take any further action to carry out the verdict.
In March of 2023, it is reported that representatives of the mining company that operated in the area conducted a geological mapping survey in Salakan Mountain. They were accompanied by members of the local police, the military, and the public order agency.
On 21 March 2023, in the evening, it is reported that nine unidentified individuals went to the house of Mr. Budiawan. They destroyed a sign which had been hanging outside the human rights defender’s house, with a message of protest against the gold mine in the Salakan Mountains.
On 24 March 2023, nearly five years after his release, multiple officers representing the law enforcement authority reportedly visited the house of Mr. Budiawan and arrested the human rights defender. They stated that this was in connection with the verdict issued by the Supreme Court in 2018.
It is reported that, since 24 March 2023, Mr. Budiawan has been held in detention at the Banyuwangi Prison, in East Java province.
In the communication, we express our concern over the prolongation of the sentencing of Mr. Heri Budiawan for crimes against state security, in connection to his work in the defence of human rights. This relates specifically to Mr. Budiawan’s legitimate right to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and his right to freedom of opinion and expression, which he exercised through the manifestations he carried out on 4 April 2017, in protest against the detrimental impact of the gold mine in Tumpang Pitu and Salakan mountain in East Java. We are also concerned that the original ruling to incarcerate the individual, as well as his recent re-arrest in compliance with the subsequent court verdict to extend his initial sentence, appear to be motivated by an intent to halt the human rights defender’s activities for the protection of the environment, and to facilitate the activities of the mining companies.
Further concern is expressed that the sentencing of the environmental human rights defender could discourage other human rights defenders and affected communities from carrying out their environmental activism, and from advocating for the legitimate rights which they are owed under International law, in the context of Tumpang Pitu and other large-scale industrial initiatives.