Police disperse protest in tourist town Labuan Bajo, East Nusa Tenggara Province – many protesters arrested

On 1 August 2022, the police repressively dispersed a peaceful demonstration by mostly members of the Tourism Care Community Forum (Formapp) in Labuan Bajo against the government’s tourism management policies for Komodo National Park (KNP). For Formapp, the policies are unilateral and detrimental to residents, and the main issue is the increased entrance fees for the KNP. Labuan Bajo is a gateway town to the KNP, it is located in Komodo, West Manggarai Regency, East Nusa Tenggara Province.

West Manggarai Police Chief, AKBP Felli Hermanto, SIK MSi argued that the protesters had to be dispersed and some arrested to protect a vital object, namely the Komodo Airport. The repressive actions of the police led to the arrest of the Head of Formapp, Rafael Todowela together with three other men for allegedly attempting to enter the airport. However, according to one of the protesters, the arrests were not made at the airport but at Puncak Waringin, which is more than 1km away from the airport.

The police also ill-treated a driver named Dodiardus Radas around Komodo Airport. He was beaten up for unknown reasons while picking up trash at the airport. He works in tourism providing airport car services. In addition, one person was arrested for posting an action post on social media, and two people were intimidated while visiting a detainee at the West Manggarai Police Station.

KNP entrance fees initially ranged from two hundred thousand to four hundred thousand rupiahs. The fees were waived during part of the COVID-19 pandemic, and now, effectively on 1 August 2022, the fee is seven hundred fifty thousand rupiahs. The government’s reason for the increase in ticket prices is to limit the number of visitors for conservation purposes. However, according to residents in Labuan Bajo, the reason given does not match the reality on the ground, where the government have been promoting investment to build infrastructure on the island of Komodo.

Witnesses state that many more protesters were arrested on 1 August 2022. Most of them were released after making a statement of apology and mentioning that the Head of Formapp Mabar pressure them to take part in the protest. On 3 August 2022, the Head of Formapp, along with 19 associations that are members of Formapp, stated that they agree to the increase in KNP entrance fees. However, this statement two days after the protest and the arbitrary arrest could have been given after coercion.

Background information

The Indonesian government has changed tourism in Labuan Bajo, which was previously community-based and sustainable, into tourism based on privatization and monopoly. Labuan Bajo and its surroundings are now part of the National Tourism Strategic Area (KSPN) and Komodo National Park is the epicentre of investment. In the Integrated Master Plan for Tourism compiled by the Indonesian government, there are plans for infrastructure development and investment and this development scheme does not take residents into consideration and threatens indigenous people and the preservation of endangered animals and the environment.

There are two fundamental reasons behind the whole community protest: First, this policy is against conservation principles. KNP as a conservation area for endangered species is directed to become an investment area with large-scale development. Although the Government continues to argue that its goal is precisely for conservation because the high tariffs will be able to limit visits. However, according to residents based on data in the field, the Government brought in companies to build infrastructure in it.

Second, the Government’s actions are seen by the citizens as an effort to eliminate their livelihoods. What is the primary source of income for residents will be lost. The first most affected groups are tourism actors in Labuan Bajo and primary economic sectors such as agriculture, animal husbandry, and fisheries which are indeed an essential ecosystem of Labuan Bajo tourism. Due to the decreasing number of tourist visits, at least since the news of the ticket increase was made public, according to the residents of Labuan Bajo, tens of thousands of visits have been cancelled. The most affected group is none other than the residents of the island of Komodo (the Ata Modo community).

In its release, the National Coalition for Agrarian Reform (KNPA) said that due to being designated as KSPN, projects in Labuan Bajo, Komodo Island, and Rinca Islands were finally carried out haphazardly, with no community participation and causing an environmental crisis.

Find out more about background here and in this video.

The National Coalition for Agrarian Reform (KNPA) composed by 23 organisations, also calls urgently for:

1. The Governor of East Nusa Tenggara stops the seizure of the land of the people of Labuan Bajo in the name of the development of the premium tourist area of ​​Labuan Bajo-Flores;

2. The Governor of East Nusa Tenggara stops all development policies that violate the rights of indigenous peoples, women, and other vulnerable groups in East Nusa Tenggara;

3. The Chief of the Indonesian National Police stops all forms of intimidation and various attempts to criminalize land rights and environmentalists;

4. The Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy revoked the policy of increasing entrance fees to Komodo Island and Padar Island;

5. The Minister of Environment and Forestry evaluates conservation practices in Komodo National Park (KNP) for denying the rights of the community while accommodating the interests of extractive development, especially hotels for the large-scale tourism industry;

6. The President of the Republic of Indonesia evaluates and revokes the existence of permits for all tourism companies located within the Komodo National Park area.

7. The President of the Republic of Indonesia revoked Presidential Regulation no. 32 of 2018 concerning the Labuan Bajo-Flores Tourism Area Management Authority;

8. The President of the Republic of Indonesia evaluates the entire list of National Strategic Projects that displace and seize people’s living space.

Detailed Case Data
name of the location:  at the peak of Waringin (Puncak Wairingin)( -8.494756963264885, 119.87950632127196)
administrative region: Indonesia, East Nusa Tenggara Province, West Manggarai Regency, Labuan Bajo Kota
total number of victims: dozens
period of incident: 01.08.2022
perpetrator: police
perpetrator details: West Manggarai Police and Labuan Bajo Brimob
Issues: freedom of assembly, arbitrary arrest, torture 
Sources: Polisi Bersenjata Laras Panjang Tangkap Ketua Formapp Mabar di Labuan Bajo, Pelaku Pariwisata Dipukul dan Ditendang (tajukflores.com), Ini Alasan Kapolres Manggarai Barat Tindak Tegas Orator di Labuan Bajo (digtara.com), Demonstrasi di Labuan Bajo Dibubar Paksa, Foto dan Video Dihapus – Klik Labuanbajo Further HRM News:

NumberName, DetailsGenderAgeGroup AffiliationViolation
1Rafael TodowelaMaleunknowntourism sectorfreedom of assembly, freedom of expression, arbitrary arrest
1Dodiardus RadasMaleunknowntourism sectorIll-treatment, freedom of assembly
dozensunknownunknownunknownactivistsarbitrary arrest