Indonesian environmentalist jailed for ‘spreading communism’

  • ASEAN+
  • Thursday, 25 Jan 2018

Taken away: Police officers escorting Heri out of the courtroom after his trial in Banyuwangi, East Java province. — AFP

Banyuwangi (Indonesia): An Indonesian environmentalist has been sentenced to 10 months in prison under a tough anti-communism law, a legacy of one of the darkest chapters in its history.

A court in East Java handed down the sentence on Tuesday after finding Heri Budiawan, 38, guilty of spreading communism during a demonstration last year against the opening of a local gold mine.

Some protesters were seen carrying banners with an image of a hammer and sickle – a widely-recognised symbol of communism – during the protest and Heri was fingered as the rally organiser.

Three other banner-carrying protesters were also charged under the rarely-used law and are awaiting trial.

A change to the criminal code in the late 1990s made it illegal to spread communism or other leftist ideologies, with possible sentences of up to 12 years in jail.

“We are thoroughly dissatisfied with this verdict – this is a threat to democracy and freedom of speech,” Heri’s lawyer Ahmad Rifai said yesterday.

Indonesia had one of the world’s biggest communist parties before massacres in the mid-1960s left some 500,000 dead, including party members and suspected leftists.

The mass killings happened as long-ruling dictator Suharto seized power. During his 32-year rule, the government’s official narrative was that the killings had been necessary to rid Indonesia of communism.

Last year, Indonesia’s defence minister said suspected communists killed in the military-backed massacres “deserved to die”.

Heri’s lawyer said that his client and the other protesters did not make the banners and did not understand the hammer and sickle’s link to communism. — AFP

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