Top Indonesian minister Luhut Pandjaitan is on course to go head-to-head in court with two renowned human rights activists, after they alleged the politician to have direct involvement in a lucrative mining business in Papua.
Luhut, who serves as Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment and is widely seen as President Joko Widodo’s closest political advisor, filed a criminal lawsuit and a civil lawsuit for IDR100 billion (US$7 million) — both for defamation — against Lokataru Law and Human Rights Office co-founder Haris Azhar and the head of the Commission on Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS) Fatia Maulidiyanti.
In a video uploaded to Haris’ YouTube channel on Aug. 20, the two activists discussed a study by numerous environmental and human rights groups that noted a link between heightened military presence around gold mines in Papua’s Intan Jaya regency — resulting in escalating conflict with the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) — and that Indonesian military and police generals have stakes in the mining companies.
According to the study, Luhut is also involved as a minority stakeholder in a firm that is involved in the area’s gold mining industry, and this point was the main sell in Haris and Fatia’s discussion in the video.
Luhut has denied the allegations and reported the pair for defamation to the Jakarta Metro Police today, claiming that he resorted to filing the lawsuits after they failed to clarify their statements and offer a public apology.
“I remind you, there is no absolute freedom [of speech]. All freedoms come with responsibilities and I have the right to defend my rights,” Luhut told reporters at the Jakarta Metro Police HQ today.
Luhut’s lawyer, Juniver Girsang, said the minister plans to donate the IDR100 billion to the people of Papua should he win the lawsuit.
It must be noted that Haris actually offered Luhut the platform to defend himself from the study’s findings, but Juniver said his client refused on the grounds that Haris should have sought a statement from Luhut before making the allegations public through his YouTube video.
Haris’ lawyer, Nurkholis Hidayat, blasted Luhut’s lawsuits.
“We regret it because we made attempts to amicably invite [Luhut] to meet and clarify differing opinions. [Suing us] is not at all a commendable action and it does not encourage the people to participate in the monitoring of the government,” he said today.
Under Indonesia’s controversial Information and Electronic Transactions Act (UU ITE), defamation is punishable by up to four years in prison.