7-year sentence demanded for environmental activist who allegedly displayed communist symbol at demo

Activists distraught at the news that Heri Budiawan, aka Budi Pego had been arrested by police. Photo: WALHI Jawa Timur / Facebook

Along with anti-LGBT paranoia, Indonesia has also seen a surge in communist paranoia in the last few years. Despite the Indonesian Communist Party having been eradicated over 50 years ago, the mere specter of communism remains such a powerful political boogeyman that mere accusations of support for the banned ideology can be used to attack and silence activists.

A well-known environmental activist named Heri Budiawan, better known as Budi Pego, is currently undergoing trial for allegedly displaying communist symbols after police accused him of raising a banner featuring the hammer and sickle during a protest.

During his sentencing hearing on Thursday at the Banyuwangi District Court in East Java, the prosecution demanded that Budi Pego be given 7 years for “spreading communist teachings” by holding up a banner featuring the communist symbol at a protest against a gold mine in Pesanggaran on April 4.

“The defendant has been proven legally and convincingly guilty of committing crimes against the security of the state,” prosecutor Budhi Cahyono said at the hearing as quoted by Tempo.

The prosecutor accused the 37-year-old environmental activist not just of holding up the offending banner but also planning and coordinating the protest at which it was displayed.

However there are several good reasons to believe, as most of his fellow activists believe, that Budi Pego was framed by those who wanted to silence his protests against the gold mine.

Budi Pego keluar dari ruang Kejaksaan Negeri (Kejari) Banyuwangi pada pukul 12.06 wib.Kabar ini memicu emosi warga…

Posted by WALHI Jawa Timur on Sunday, September 3, 2017

For one thing, although the prosecution presented several witnesses and pieces of evidence to support their accusation, including 8 of the banners from the demonstration, none of those banners actually had the hammer and sickle in question on them.

In fact, the only evidence that Budi Pego held up the hammer and sickle banner comes from photos taken by the police that were used to arrest him after the demo.

This fact becomes even more suspicious when you learn that the demonstrators actually made all of the banners under the watchful eyes of the police.

“If there had been a drawing similar to the hammer and sickle, the police could have stopped them and arrest the people immediately,” Muhammad Afandi, head of the advocacy and campaigning division of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), told Kompas back in September soon after Budi Pego was arrested.

Other protesters also said they only knew about the supposed hammer and sickle logo on the banner after police showed them photos. They were also adamant that it had not been one of the 11 banners they had made.

Afandi said that at least five other “criminalization” attempts have been made to arrest people engaged in peaceful protest against the Tumpang Pitu gold mine.

Nyatakan dukunganmu!!! Melawan atau Tumbang!!. Lawan kriminalisasi dan selamatkan lingkungan tempat anak cucumu kelak hidup.

Posted by WALHI Jawa Timur on Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Walhi officer noted that Article 66 of Law 32/2009 on Environmental Protection and Management says that those who struggle for the right to a good and healthy environment cannot be prosecuted criminally or civilly sued.

That law could not protect Budi Pego from being arrested and tried. Hopefully the judges in the case will fairly evaluate the evidence (or lack thereof) in this case. 

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