JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network): Inactive regent of Langkat, North Sumatra, and recently named graft suspect, Terbit Rencana Peranginangin, has been accused of caging dozens of people at his home in North Sumatra and compelling them to work on his oil palm plantation.
Authorities discovered an iron-barred cell as they searched Terbit’s residential compound during his arrest in a Jan 18 sting operation led by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).
Terbit allegedly evaded arrest at his home but turned himself in to the Binjai Police later in the day.
The KPK named Terbit and five other people graft suspects last week for allegedly demanding kickbacks from private contractors in exchange for regental infrastructure construction projects.
National Police spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ahmad Ramadhan said the cell, which was located in a 36sq m outbuilding, was divided into two smaller chambers by iron bars.
“Based on the [witness] information, the rooms were used to temporarily hold drug addicts and teenage delinquents, the latter of whom were willingly turned in by their families to be disciplined,” said Ahmad on Tuesday.
Ahmad said some of the “inmates” were employed on Terbit’s oil palm plantation, with the purported aim of equipping them with useful skills.
He said they were reportedly not given wages but noted that they were properly fed. Some 48 people had been held in the cell, Ahmad said, although some of them had been returned to their families.
Ahmad said the cell was built in 2012 under Terbit’s own initiative, adding that it had no permit to operate as a rehabilitation centre.
The North Sumatra Police had formed a team to investigate the matter further, he added.
Forced labour allegations Labour rights advocacy group Migrant Care said it had received reports that people living in the cage had been subjected to forced labor.
The organisation said it had promptly reported the allegations to the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM).
“We received information from people who were inside the cells that they were [made to work] on [Terbit’s] oil palm plantation. They worked for more than 10 hours a day without being paid and there was suspected torture because some of them reportedly had bruises,”Migrant Care executive director Anis Hidayah said.
Speaking after visiting the area on Wednesday, Komnas HAM commissioner Choirul Anam said the commission had started gathering witness testimony, including from relatives of the people who were caged.
“We have been asking [the witnesses] whether violence occurred, whether there was inhumane treatment or other acts that could potentially violate human rights,” said Choirul on Thursday.
Activists’ condemnation Institute of Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) executive director Erasmus Napitupulu criticised the police’s characterisation of people who lived in the cells as “inmates”, which he said was a “fatal mistake”.
“A regent does not have any authority to conduct rehabilitation for drug users or any other people,” said Erasmus in a statement on Tuesday.
“Victims are victims, not inmates.”
He went on to call on the authorities to investigate the case thoroughly and ensure that the recovery of the victims was prioritised.
Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid shared Erasmus’ view, adding that the case should spur authorities to take a closer look at allegations of misconduct in the country’s palm oil industry.
“The case should serve as a trigger for the authorities to closely monitor the oil palm industry, which is prone to exploitation of its workers, indigenous communities and the environment,” said Usman.
He noted that this was not first time alleged human rights violations had occurred on the country’s oil palm plantations.
Amnesty International had produced a report in 2016 detailing serious human rights violations on some Indonesian plantations, he said, including forced labour, child labour, gender discrimination and the exploitation of workers.