Intimidation and attack on participants at People’s Water Forum in Bali – UN Special Rapporteur blocked from accessing venue

The People’s Water Forum (PWF), a global civil society forum on water rights, has been disrupted by harassment and intimidation tactics, according to media reports. The forum, which ran from 21 to 23 May 2024, coincided with the 10th World Water Forum (18-24 May) hosted by the Indonesian government.

The PWF alleges that Indonesian authorities engaged in a campaign of harassment leading up to and during their forum. This included visits by police and military intelligence to the home of the director of the Bintang Gana Foundation, a local organisation representing the PWF. Additionally, authorities reportedly pressured venues to postpone or cancel the forum altogether. PWF organisers also faced online harassment, with their social media accounts being hacked and their website trolled.

On 20 May, a pre-event discussion hosted by the PWF was disrupted by violence. A group known as Patriot Garuda Nusantara (PGN) barged into the venue and destroyed banners and billboards. Amnesty International reports that PGN had previously visited the event site and demanded the cancellation of the PWF. The PWF alleges that Indonesian authorities took measures similar to those during the dictatorship under President Suharto, when the state used such groups to silence critics.

Further escalating tensions, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, Mr Pedro Arrojo Agudo, was denied entry to the PWF venue on 21 May. Security forces guarded the venue and forced Mr. Arrojo and his companions to leave. WATCH VIDEO of UN Special Rapporteur at the hotel venue.

The reports allege a connection between the disruptions and the Indonesian government. According to Amnesty International, some members of the PWF organising committee were intimidated and threatened by state officials in an attempt to prevent the forum. Several venues reportedly refused to host the event after facing intimidation. The extent to which the government was involved remains unclear, and the reports do not provide concrete evidence.

Amnesty International Indonesia’s Executive Director, Mr Usman Hamid, called the intimidation and attacks on the PWF participants a serious attack on peaceful assembly. He expressed concern about the repeated repression of government critics and the authorities’ failure to uphold their obligations to protect freedom of expression, assembly, and association. Amnesty International Indonesia urged the Indonesian authorities to take immediate action to end intimidation and violence against human rights defenders.

Global rights group CIVICUS echoes the PWF’s demands to end harassment and intimidation. They call for an investigation into the disruption of the forum and for the Indonesian government to uphold its human rights obligations. CIVICUS points out that this is not the first time civil society events have been disrupted in Bali.  CIVICUS argues that the voices and engagement of civil society are crucial, particularly for protecting human rights, and that the Indonesian authorities are failing to create an environment that enables them to convene freely. Human Rights Monitor documented similar assaults against government critics in 2022, 2023, and, 2024, with some of the events also involving the PGN.

The People’s Water Forum (PWF) is a worldwide network of Water Justice Movements. They advocate for ensuring water access as a human right and challenge the privatisation and commercialisation of water resources. This year, they organised a gathering in Denpasar, Bali, from 21 to 23 May to oppose water privatisation and advocate for water management benefiting public welfare.