Rempang island Indonesia clashes with police

WALHI (Friends of the Earth Indonesia) denounces the violent repression of people who gathered in protest against the National Strategic Program to build an ‘Eco-City’ on Rempang Island without the consent of local residents. Friends of the Earth International expresses internationalist solidarity in the wake of the events.

Violent clashes on Rempang Island

On 7 September 2023, police officers invaded an area of Rempang Island to take land measurements, provoking physical clashes with the community there who refused them.  Hundreds of people were harmed in this violent incident. The reported firing of tear gas caused a suffocation hazard for many people, including school children entering their classrooms. Dozens of people were directly injured by police officers, at least 20 people were arrested and 8 residents criminalised. 

However, the Government of Indonesia, the Riau Islands Provincial Government, the Batam City Government, the Batam Free Trade and Free Port Zone Concession Agency (BP Batam), the Indonesian National Police Chief, the Riau Islands Provincial Police Chief, and the Batam Resort Police Chief, have all denied the forced eviction of the peoples of Rempang Island.

Rempang island Indonesia children
Children suffocated by tear gas on their way to school. Photo by WALHI.

Rempang Island is not the only case in Indonesia

Patterns of non-inclusive development have become normal in Indonesia. The use of repressive force by the police against people is now also the tactic favoured by the authorities. This was seen in the case of Wadas village in 2022, and earlier in Kulonprogo.

National plans to build a dam in Bener District in Central Java were the cause of conflicts in Wadas village. The development of a New International Yogyakarta Airport led to conflicts in Kulonprogo. This latest conflict around Rempang Eco-City comes after the announcement of the national development plan by the Coordinator minister of economic regulation number 7, in August 2023.

Confrontations between communities and authorities were reported over the last two months, linked with the national government’s plans to develop an Eco-City on Rempang Island. The development plan, led by BP Batam, requires the island’s residents to leave, with no consideration for the peoples who have been living there in 16 kampong melayu tua (Old Melayu traditional villages) since 1834. 

In addition to specific conflicts over implementation of national strategic projects, wider criminalisation processes against Indigenous Peoples, local communities and social movements are escalating in Indonesia. Criticising and denouncing violations of human rights and peoples’ rights and resisting in defence of territories in Indonesia today means getting a hard backlash from authorities.

Rempang island Indonesia arrests
Arrests of community members in Rempang. Photo by WALHI.

Our demands to the Indonesian government

Friends of the Earth International and WALHI  join the demands of Rempang’s peoples and Indonesian social organisations. We call on the government of Indonesia to:

  • Respect the Human Rights of Rempang’s peoples, and make effective rulings that oblige to protect them, not persecute them;
  • Guarantee the integrity and security of Rempang’s peoples, residents of Old Melayu kampong (villages), and, in general, the peoples of Indonesia;
  • Cancel the development plan and implementation of Eco-City on Rempang Island;
  • Stop deploying police officers to Rempang Island;
  • Stop violence and criminalisation against Rempang’s peoples;
  • Remove the head of the regional police for Riau province and the head of the Batam resort police;
  • Carry out a permanent moratorium on national strategic projects in territories belonging to Indigenous Peoples and local communities;
  • Open an investigation to urgently find, judge and punish those materially and intellectually responsible for this crime and for all previous threats received by comrades from different organisations and social movements.

Internationalist solidarity with the peoples of Rempang Island

Friends of the Earth International stands with WALHI and calls on the international community to denounce the forced eviction of Rempang’s peoples, and remain on permanent alert and in active solidarity with WALHI and Rempang’s peoples. 

We call on organisations and social movements in different parts of the world to keep struggling against injustices like this one, and to fight the impunity of those who perpetrate these brutal crimes against our peoples.