Saturday, 27 December 2008

Walhi to Take Police to Court Over Logging

December 26, 2008 The Jakarta Globe

Anita Rachman & Nivell Rayda

Walhi to Take Police to Court Over Logging

The Riau Province chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, or Walhi, plans a court challenge to a police decision to halt long-running illegal logging investigations involving 13 timber companies, a forum official said on Friday.

Ali Husain Nasution, Riau Walhi’s legal counselor, said that the group would soon file lawsuits at eight district courts in the province.

“We want the district courts to examine why the police have stopped the investigations,” he said, adding that there were indications of conspiracy behind the decision, though he did not provide details.

According to Walhi, prosecutors ignored the testimony of experts from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture, who said the companies being investigated had caused substantial damage to the environment.

The group also alleged that local governments had violated the forestry law by issuing permits to log in areas where it was illegal to do so, such as on slanting ground and in protected forests, which could cause flooding and landslides.

Hadiatmoko, the chief of the Riau Police, said earlier that the investigations, most of which date back to 2007, were being dropped at the behest of prosecutors, who had determined there were no grounds to press charges.

“Why have the police dared to let these companies off? The evidence is there,” Ali said, adding that Walhi itself had submitted substantial evidence of environmental damage.

M. Teguh Surya, Walhi’s head of advocacy and networking, said that in 2008 alone, the logging companies had cut down two million cubic meters of timber valued at more than Rp 3 trillion ($273 million).

“What the court should have done is not only look at the forestry law, but also other laws, such as those on corruption,” Teguh said, alleging that the companies had bribed district heads to issue logging permits.

In September of this year, Tengku Azmun Jaafar, one of the province’s district heads, was jailed for 11 years by the Anti-Corruption Court in Jakarta for accepting bribes in connection with the issuance of logging permits.

Teguh, however, said that the companies and the masterminds behind the illegal logging should be punished just as severely.

The country’s leading anticorruption watchdog, Indonesian Corruption Watch, said that in the last three years, less than one-third of 205 illegal logging cases resulted in convictions. Those who were convicted received light sentences of two years or less.