Jakarta. Human rights groups have called on the National Police to investigate the fatal shooting of a farmer in Jambi by police officers during a riot on Monday.
The incident took place at Senyerang village in West Tanjung, Jabung district, during a protest by local farmers against plantation firm Wira Karya Sakti, a subsidiary of the Sinar Mas Group.
Witnesses said there were only around 60 protesters, but police in Jakarta spoke of 2,000.
The protest turned violent when the farmers, who accused WKS of stealing more than 7,000 hectares of their land, began hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails at one of the company’s boat.
Members of the police’s Mobile Brigade (Brimob), who were on board, then fired warning shots to disperse the crowd, and ended up killing one farmer and injuring another.
The man who died was shot in the head. He was identified as Ahmad, 45.
On Tuesday, the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) condemned what it called excessive use of force by the police, and demanded a probe.
“We protest the repressive actions taken by the police in handling the rally,” Iwan Nurdin from Kontras said. “This must be thoroughly investigated.”
He added the protest had been fueled in part by the decision on the part of WKS to hire Brimob and other police officers to guard its interests in the area, which Iwan said had provoked the farmers.
Meanwhile, Wahyu Wagiman, coordinator of the Public Interest Lawyer Network (PIL-Net), said Brimob officers had not given any warning before opening fire on the protesters.
“It should be considered a human rights violation — extrajudicial murder and torture by the police,” he said.
He added that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono should order the National Police chief to withdraw all officers from the disputed area and carry out an investigation of the events leading up to the shooting.
“It’s ironic that this incident comes just as the president launched the national land reform program,” Wahyu said.
The reform program was launched last month on National Land Day, and was marked by the handover of 400-square-meter lots to 5,100 families in Central Java as part of the government’s commitment to empowering farmers.
The police have vowed to investigate the incident.
“We’re carrying out an internal investigation into whether this shooting complied with our procedures or not,” National Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Ketut Untung Yoga said.
“It occurred in response to the mass attack on our officers who were guarding a ship belonging to Wira Karya Sakti, which was trying to pass down a river.”
He said “up to 2,000 protesters” had blockaded the river on land owned by WKS as part of their protest and had turned violent, forcing the officers to shoot.
“Our officers first fired warning shots, but the crowd continued to attack,” Ketut said.
Iwan said the farmers had been in the right.
“The farmers were only protecting what was theirs,” he said. “The area they’d blockaded was their land, and had been illegally occupied by WKS.”
He added WKS was “a powerful company” that had consistently prevented journalists and lawyers from visiting the area.
“The Forestry Ministry should return the land to the farmers and freeze WKS’s plantation permit,” Iwan said.
The dispute began three years ago when WKS obtained a concession in the area that locals had previously lived and farmed.
In August, two farmers suffered gunshot wounds during a similar protest.