Thursday, October 3, 2013

Kulon Progo Farmer Tukijo Freed From Prison

Tukijo finally walked free from Yogyakarta prison this morning, to be welcomed by his family, farmers from Kulon Progo and supporters of their struggle. There was no holding back the emotion as his friends hugged him in turn - a pointless and vindictive ordeal was over at last.

Tukijo is one of the thousands of farmers along the Kulon Progo coast who are defending their land from an Australian mining company in partnership with the local feudal leader. He was snatched from his fields by police in May 2011 and sentenced to three years in prison for doing nothing more than telling a company worker to get off the land.

After nearly two and a half years in prison, Tukijo will now be able to return to his farm to plant chillis and watermelons once again, as the land has not yet been taken over by Indomines for its iron sand mine. Whether due to it's tumbling share price, a fall in demand for iron from China or the farmers' determined resistance, the mining company's plans have been put back again and again.

But the mining threat has not gone away. Worryingly, news has come through within the last few weeks that some villagers at the far end of the mining area have accepted a downpayment from the company, agreeing they would sell their land. This came as a big shock to other villages, which have been more centrally involved in resisting the mine. They believe they are more determined in their struggle, but now they can see how easy it is for a company to manipulate any weakness.

Although the Kulon Progo farmers have lived on the land for generations and developed their own techniques to make the sandy dunes fertile and productive, they are up against the local feudal leaders (Sultan Hamengkubuwono X and Paku Alam), who are claiming ultimate ownership over all land in the Yogyakarta Special Region province where no freehold has been granted. It is a dubious claim dating back to colonial times, which was clearly outlawed by Indonesia's Basic Agrarian Law in 1960. However the Sultan has been trying to strengthen his legal position by lobbying for new laws. A national law on Yogyakarta's 'specialness' was passed last year, and next week the Yogyakarta Provincial Legislative Council is expected to pass a local law which supports the feudal system.

Around the Yogyakarta Region, many people are not yet aware that their Sultan has got his eye on their land - maybe they are proud to live in an area where the Javanese culture is still strong, or they see the system as better than the rampant corruption which causes so many problems in other areas. However, several communities are aware and are resisting. Aside from the Kulon Progo farmers, the community of Parangkusumo is one example. This coastal village is a few kilometres away from the popular tourist beach at Parangtritis, and is facing eviction. The reason given is a moralistic one - the local government claims prostitution goes on in the karaoke bars there, but it is fairly obvious that the real reason is to clear the coast for tourism development.

So while it's good news for the moment as Tukijo celebrates being able to breathe once more the fresh sea air blowing in over the Kulon Progo coast, there are still many challenges ahead before the Kulon Progo farmers can finally relax, knowing they have defeated the iron mine once and for all.