World Bank watch: Police rapped for banning NGO gathering in Batam

Police rapped for banning NGO gathering in Batam >
Ary Hermawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

September 8, 2006

International NGOs have slammed the Riau Police's decision to ban them from holding a gathering next week on Batam Island to protest the annual World Bank-IMF meetings in Singapore.

"We deplore the misleading statement of Riau Islands Police chief Brig. Gen. Sutarman that our planned gathering in Batam would trigger instability and riots," the International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID) said in a statement sent to The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

INFID's statement was issued on behalf of the members of the People's Alliance Against the World Bank and IMF (ARM-IFIS), which includes Debt Watch Indonesia, FSPSI Reformasi, PADI Indonesia and ISMAD.

The Riau Islands Police have rejected INFID's request to hold a gathering in Batam to oppose the 10-day 2006 Annual Meetings of the Boards of Governors of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group, which will be attended by 16,000 foreign delegates from 184 countries worldwide.

The police's decision is supported by 18 local NGOs, which said the activists' meeting would undermine investment on the island.

"I say we will disperse them. If we're unable to do it ourselves, we'll do it together with the (local) NGOs," Sutarman told local daily newspaper the Batam Pos on Tuesday.

However, speculation that the local NGOs are being paid off by business interests on the island is rife, with people claiming they had seen posters in Batam saying: "We provide people for demonstrations, price negotiable." The police earlier met with the local NGOs to discuss the INFID meetings.

Local NGOs that oppose INFID's forum include Independent Political Watch, Cinta Anak Negeri and youth group Pemuda Pancasila.

INFID NGOs had planned to hold the International People's Forum (IPF) at the Batam Haj Dormitory. Events at the forum include a planned International-National Media Workshop from Sept. 12 to 13, a committee meeting on Sept. 14 and the main event from Sept. 15 to 17.

In a letter made available to The Jakarta Post, the Riau Islands Police said they could not provide INFID with a permit to hold the meeting on the island as it would cause "economic disadvantages" to Indonesia.

"There are fears from the employers in the Batamindo industrial region that the gathering would have bad influence on workers," it says.

The police believe the gathering would also prompt conflict because local NGOs had expressed opposition to INFID meetings.

INFID, meanwhile, called Sutarman's statement provocative and said it could incite public unrest.

"If he reads the letter we sent, he should have understood the purpose of the meeting, which is to express people's concerns," it said.

INFID NGOs have expressed their strong opposition to lender institutions such as the Indonesian Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. They said the two agencies often have hidden agendas behind their decisions to disburse loans.

The group's deputy director, Dian Kartika Sari, said the reasons the authorities used to ban the gathering were legally groundless.

"This is a democratic country where thousands of workers are allowed to hold rallies. Why are they banning us from holding a seminar?" Dian told the Post".

She said the NGOs would continue to persuade decision-makers to help them secure a permit for the meetings.

"Some are now lobbying lawmakers, while some others are trying to talk to officials at the National Police Headquarters," she said.

She said she had no plans to talk to the local NGOs that opposed the planned meeting and would instead focus on getting a permit.

"I don't think we're going to talk with them, as it would only worsen the situation," she said.