Freed activist urges Jokowi to release all jailed advocates

JAKARTA - Human rights activist Eva Susanti Bande has thanked President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo for granting her clemency, allowing her to be released from prison on Friday, or just 10 days after the President promised her release before national Mother's Day, which falls on Dec. 22.

Luwuk District Court in Central Sulawesi sentenced Eva to three-and-a-half years in prison under Article 160 of the Criminal Code (KUHP) for instigation and vandalism relating to her involvement in a 2010 rally with a group of farmers in Banggai, Central Sulawesi against an oil palm plantation.

The high court increased her sentence to four years. The Supreme Court turned down an appeal last year. Eva then asked for presidential clemency.

"I say this is a miracle as an answer to our long struggle," the agrarian activist said in a press conference at the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) office in South Jakarta on Sunday.

"He is a good man," the mother-of-three said, regarding the President.

Eva, who was officially released from the Petobo detention centre in Palu, Sulawesi, on Friday, did not forget other activists who remain in prison for human rights activities, including defending farmers who lost their land to big plantations or corporations or because of unilateral government acts to seize their property.

"I asked the President to release 140 farmers and human rights activists, including agrarian activists, who became victims of criminalization," Eva said as quoted by

She hoped the government would take resolving agrarian conflicts more seriously now that an agrarian rights activist had been granted clemency for the first time.

"Even though I am glad that I was granted clemency, it is not the end of the many agrarian conflicts evident to this day. The government must be willing to create real solutions and to act against private companies taking land illegally and with force," she said.

After his inauguration, Jokowi set up the Agrarian and Spatial Planning Ministry, headed by Ferry Mursyidan Baldan. Jokowi had said that the ministry would strengthen the National Land Agency (BPN) and help the police and prosecutors settle land disputes.

National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) commissioner Siti Noor Laila accused law enforcement of siding with private companies in agrarian disputes by physically threatening and intimidating farmers and activists fighting for their agrarian rights.

"We have received various reports from locals against the police, private companies and provincial governments. Most of them say that the police use the law against activists so that they are treated like petty criminals while action is never taken against companies even though they often acquire land illegally," she said.

However, National Police deputy chief Comr. Gen. Badrodin Haiti said last week that the police had to use a firm hand when dealing with activists or civilians who disturbed the peace by damaging or forcefully shutting down property.

Walhi chairman Abetnego Tarigan explained that most of the activists imprisoned were from Java, Sumatra, Sulawesi and Kalimantan, where they became caught up in land disputes with local communities.

"Agrarian disputes are a great source of conflict that have plagued our nation for many years. So many of those who fight for people to be able to take charge of and develop their own land end up being criminalized by the existing legal system," he said on Sunday.