Criminalisation of environmental activists – Fight against mining operations of PT TMS in Sangihe Islands

Mr Robison Saul, a fisherman and an islander of Sangihe Island, North Sulawesi Province, is allegedly being criminalised for being vocal against the operations of the company PT Tambang Mas Sangihe (PT TMS). Robison participated in community actions against the mining activities, including blocking PT TMS’s transportation of heavy equipment on 14 June 2022. Robison was accused of carrying sharp weapons during the action on that date. The case is currently before the Tahuna District Court.

Robison first received a summons from the Sangihe Islands Police on 21 June 2022. Robison was cooperative. He went to the police office accompanied by Alfred Pontolondo from the Save Sangihe Island Coalition. Robison was questioned and asked to sign an investigation report. One week later, on 27 June 2022, the police named Robison as a suspect for carrying sharp weapons, and he was charged with Article 2 paragraph (1) of the Indonesian Emergency Law no. 12 of 1951. on 30 June 2022, Robison received a letter of arrest and detention. Since that day, Robison has been detained. His incarceration will continue until the Tahuna District Court hears the case.

This case was registered under case number 82/Pid.Sus/2022/PN Thn on 20 September 2022, on the charge of committing the crime of unlawfully possessing, carrying, or having in his possession, stabbing weapons, namely one knife made of white iron. The first trial was held on 28 September 2022.

The Save Sangihe Island Coalition said there was no element of ‘men’s rea’ (intent) in the Robison Saul case. Robison’s involvement in the action from June 13-16, 2022, was unplanned. When he heard the news that PT TMS’s heavy equipment was entering illegally he went to the location after fishing. Robison did have a white knife with him. The rust-resistant blade is an heirloom passed down from Robison’s father-in-law. It was used daily as a fishing tool to cut bait, cut anchor lines, and clean oysters. The knife was not used to commit a crime, as the police alleged. The blade was never used to threaten anyone but fell during the action. The police got the knife from a soldier escorting PT TMS’s heavy equipment.

The Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM) said the police’s move to make Robison a suspect was a criminalisation action. Robison’s act of carrying the white knife is not a criminal offence because the white knife is a tool used daily to make a living as a fisherman.

Apart from Robison, 14 mining resisters are currently threatened with criminalisation. The police have begun summoning them on charges of alleged criminal acts of violence against goods on Wednesday, 17 August 2022, at around 05.30 pm on the Bowone public road, South Tabukan District, Sangihe Islands Regency.

Ill-treatment in prison

During the trial process, Robison was detained in Tahuna IIB prison. The Save Sangihe Island Coalition revealed that Robison was physically abused during his detention. Robinson shared with his lawyer that a correctional officer with the initials AJ hit him while his hands were handcuffed until he hit the toilet. As a result, Robison’s face and head were bruised, with wounds around his head. 

Background information

Sangihe Island is one of the islands in Northern Indonesia, bordering the Philippines. The area of the Sangihe archipelago is 736.98 km2 or about 73,000 hectares, with natural resources in the form of underwater volcanoes, namely the Banua Wuhu volcano on Mahengetang Island and the 6 clusters of West Kawio Volcano. Like other islands in Indonesia surrounded by active mountains, Sangihe Island is vulnerable to natural disasters.  

Including a cluster of small islands with rich biodiversity, the Sangihe archipelago is inhabited by various animals, orchids, butterflies, and underwater biota. There is also the rare Sangihe Seriwang bird, or Manu’niu as locals call it. This species only exists on Sangihe Island. The Seriwang, according to the Indonesian Bird Organization, was once on the extinct bird list. However, its existence was finally rediscovered in 1998 by John Riley and James C Wardill of the University of York and the University of Leeds, UK. Another nine endemic bird species – four critically endangered and five vulnerable – live in the protected forest area of Mount Sahendaruman, Sangihe Islands, North Sulawesi, which is also under threat.

According to company data in Minerba One Data Indonesia (MODI) of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, PT TMS has obtained a production operation license in the form of a Contract of Work (CoW) from the Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources with Decree number SK 163. K/MB.04/DJB/2021. In the decree, TMS obtained an operating license for 33 years (2021 to 2054). Sangihe Gold Corporation holds 70% of PT TMS shares and 30% of the shares are held by Indonesian companies, namely PT Sungai Belayan Sejati (10%), PT Sangihe Prima Mineral (11%), and PT Sangihe Pratama Mineral (9%). PT TMS entered the production stage with gold as its commodity. PT TMS’s mining production operation license covers an area of 42,000 hectares, more than half of Sangihe Island.

The islanders strongly opposed PT TMS operations. Fifty-six islanders filed various permit documents at the Manado State Administrative Court and the Jakarta State Administrative Court. Meanwhile, PT TMS continued to deploy heavy equipment to which the islanders responded by blocking the movement of the equipment. This active protest has led to the criminalisation of Robison and 14 other people. The Save Sangihe Island Coalition suspects that the repeated mobilisation of heavy equipment amid a cancelled environmental permit is meant to provoke islanders to take action and later criminalise them.

The community was disappointed in the police, who were quickly to name Robison as a suspect. In contrast, the police allowed and escorted the transportation of PT TMS heavy equipment even though the court had cancelled PT TMS’s license. According to the law, Article 26 of Law Number 1 the Year 2014 Article 26A of Law 1 in  2014 jo Job Creation Law Jo. Constitutional Court Decision Number 91/PUU-XVIII/2020, in the context of foreign investment, the utilisation of small islands and the utilisation of waters around them require Business Licenses from the central government and have to be regulated under the provisions of laws and regulations in the field of investment.

Legal actions

Fifty-six Sangihe island women sued PT TMS’s environmental permit at PTUN Manado. Their lawsuit was won by the Manado State Administrative Court (PTUN) on 2 June 2022. PTUN Manado annulled the Decree of the Head of the Regional Investment and One-Stop Integrated Service Office of the North Sulawesi Provincial Government regarding the Granting of an Environmental Permit for PT TMS Gold Mining Activities in Sangihe Islands Regency Number 503/DPMTSPD/IL/182/IX/2022 dated 25 September 2020. The court also stated that the implementation of mining activities had to be postponed until the verdict was legally binding.

On 23 June 2021, 7 people from the Sangihe Islands community also sued the Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources (ESDM) regarding the Decree of the Minister of ESDM Arifin Tasrif Number 163. K/MB.04/DJB/2021, dated 29 January 2021, to the Jakarta State Administrative Court. The decision was related to the Approval to Increase the Stage of Production Operation Activities of PT TMS’s Contract of Work. On 19 August 2021, PT TMS filed an intervention lawsuit at the Jakarta Administrative Court. So, in the end, the Sangihe community was the plaintiff against the Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources and PT TMS. The Sangihe community lost at the PTUN level and appealed the Jakarta State Administrative Court Decision Number 146/G/2021/PTUN.JKT dated 20 April 2022, to the State Administrative High Court. PTTUN, through its appeal decision number 140/B/2022/PT.TUN.JKT, on 31 August 2022, finally won the lawsuit of the Sangihe community.

In its verdict, the panel of judges of PTTUN Jakarta granted the lawsuit of Sangihe islanders in its entirety. The court annulled the Decree of the Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Number 163. K/MB.04/DJB/2021 dated 29 January 2021, concerning Approval to Increase the Stage of Production Operation Activities of the Contract of Work of PT Tambang Mas Sangihe; and obliged ESDM to revoke the Decree of the Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Number 163. K/MB.04/DJB/2021, dated 29 January 2021, concerning Approval to Increase the Stage of Production Operation Activities of the Contract of Work of PT TMS.

The Save Sangihe Island Coalition said that the victory of the people of Sangihe Island in court was proof that the decision-making process for the issuance of environmental permits and PT TMS’s Contract of Work by the government was full of problems. For example, the initial AMDAL socialisation process only involved 1 Village Head and three islanders who were allegedly all appointed by the company.

President Director of PT Tambang Mas Sangihe (TMS), Terry Filbert, said he would continue the resource development program in the Sangihe Islands, North Sulawesi, despite the annulment of its operational permit by the Jakarta Administrative High Court (PT TUN). PT TMS argues that it has a work contract legitimising mining exploration in the concession area. Meanwhile, the PTTUN verdict only relates to the mining operational permit issued in January 2021. Therefore, according to PT TMS, the court decision does not affect the Contract of work from the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources (ESDM).

Until now, ESDM has not implemented the court’s decision. According to the government, the environmental permit only confirms that in the short term, mining business activities are only allowed on 65.48 hectares (ha) of PT TMS’s total Contract of the Work area of 42,000 ha. Therefore, the government is evaluating the 42,000 ha Contract for the Work area of PT TMS.

PT TMS is suing President Joko Widodo and Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan. The lawsuit was also addressed to National Police Chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo, Minister of Law and Human Rights Yasonna H. Laoly, Komnas HAM, Regent of Sangihe Islands, Mardi Posumah, Grace Kapal, Sonny Posungulah, and Andri Mailoor. Other defendants include Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, Investment Minister Bahlil Lahadalia, and the Indonesian Ombudsman. The lawsuit was registered under case number 772/Pdt.G/2022/PN JKT.SEL on 23 August 2022. The demand of the suit states that the defendants have committed unlawful acts. JATAM suspects that this lawsuit is a bad tactic by the company to open up space for transactions with the government.

Through a press release on 14 October 2022, the Save Sangihe Island Coalition (YLBHI, SSI, LBH-Manado, Jatam Nasional, Trend Asia) urged:

  1. Stop the mining activities of PT Mas Sangihe Mine (TMS) on Sangihe Island;
  2. Immediately release Robison Saul from all lawsuits and stop criminalisation efforts;
  3. Grant the suspension of detention and thoroughly investigate the torture case against Robison Saul;
  4. Prosecute the unscrupulous prison officer IIB Tahuna who tortured Robison Saul;
  5. Protect and preserve the island of Sangihe and other small islands in the archipelago.

Detailed Case Data
name of the location: Bowoni Road (3.4792222426250476, 125.6552411386435)
administrative region: Indonesia, North Sulawesi Province, Sangihe Islands Regency, Tabukan Selatan District
total number of victims: dozens
period of incident: 13.06.2022 – 14.10.2022
perpetrator: company, police
perpetrator details: mining company PT Tambang Mas Sangihe (PT TMS)
Issues: freedom of expression, torture, safe environment, food, criminalisation
Further HRM News:

NumberName, Details  GenderAgeGroup Affiliation    Violation  
1Robison Saul, fishermanmale45activistfreedom of expression, safe environment
4unknown femaleunknownactivistfreedom of expression, safe environment
dozensunknownunknownunknownactivistfreedom of expression, safe environment