A murder in public view in an East Java village takes us back to the dark days of impunity, an end to which was promised by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo during his election campaign.
The chronology of the murder of Samsul, known as Salim Kancil, 52, on Sept. 26 is stomach-churning; further, the victim’s son and local kindergarten children were reportedly involuntary spectators of the beating of the villager, who, along with his neighbors, was intent on protecting the survival of their village from the threat of excessive sand-mining.
Samsul, of Selok Awar-Awar subdistrict in Pasirian district, Lumajang regency, was apparently tortured and killed because he and his neighbors were in the way of lucrative business interests involving the village head and possibly other figures of authority. His neighbor Tosan, who was also tortured, is in a critical condition.At least 23 people, including village head Hariyono, have been named suspects for illegal sand-quarrying.
However, lawmakers said on Monday that the case was too large to handle by the local police, as illegal sand-mining is worth billions of rupiah, despite the regent’s claim that everything has been done to stop such activities. The director of a mining firm that operates almost 4,400 hectares of mining area has been named a suspect for bribing authorities for the permit and has claimed he reported illegal mining to the local police last year.
Hariyono himself has denied any intention to torture or kill members of the antimining group.The provincial chapter of the environmental NGO Walhi reported there were at least 15 resources-related conflicts in East Java from January to September this year, related to the increasing need to convert land for industry and mining. Samsul and his neighbors are, then, the unfortunate victims of merely one of many such cases. They had gained increasing support for non-violent protest methods such as blocking the trucks going to and from the mining site, thus posing a major threat to those seeking profits from the business.
To curb unbridled local authority to issue permits, last year the law on regional administrations revoked the right of regents and mayors to issue mining permits. Businesses in East Java are reportedly authorized to operate in areas of over 86,000 hectares in total, mining gold, sand, geothermal energy and other resources. However, weak law enforcement has barely touched even outright illegal activities, leaving villagers to defend their land and water — their very survival.
It may be too much to expect the President to swiftly resolve the murder of leading rights activist Munir or the highly divisive issue of the 1960s massacres.
But Jokowi and his administration must at least hammer home the message of the first point of his Nawacita program across the length and breadth of law enforcers and local leaders — “To return the presence of the state to protect the nation and to provide a sense of security to all citizens”. Editorial, Jakarta Post