5 Sep 06
Foreign and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) insisted Tuesday they would go ahead with plans to hold a protest meeting in Batam called the International People’s Forum vs the IMF and World Bank, despite opposition from local police.
Ramches Merdeka, chairperson of the Child Protection Forum, which will act as the meeting’s organizing committee, said the 700 participants of 74 NGOs from 40 countries were determined to gather.
“We’re still focused on our preparations to hold the meeting in Batam. Sure, it will be in Batam, there is no change. If the police dare to ban it, it means we’re entering the Soeharto era again,” Ramches said.
The NGO meeting is planned for Sept. 12-18, to coincide with the annual meeting of the boards of governors of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group in Singapore.
Riau Islands Police chief Brig. Gen. Sutarman said the police would not support the group’s plan.
“We have agreed not to recommend their meeting in Batam. If they insist, we will disperse them by force. We will arrest them if they continue,” Sutarman said on the sidelines of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s visit to Bintang.
Sutarman added that businesspeople investing heavily in Batam had sent a letter to the police to express their objections to the NGOs’ plan.
There are at least 60 foreign investment companies operating at the 300-hectare Batamindo Industrial Estate as a result of close cooperation between the Indonesian government and its Singaporean counterpart.
Sutarman argued the police’s determination to break up the meeting did not contradict the 1998 law protecting freedom of expression in public.
“Just look for another locale. You can see how Batam is aggressively promoting itself as a major investment destination. If they want to protest a meeting in Singapore, why are they doing it in Batam?” Sutarman asked.
Wawan Irawan of the operations section of the Haj Dormitory in Batam, where the NGOs plan to hold their meeting, said the dormitory had been booked by the International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (Infid) as a coordinator of the event four months earlier.
“If they go ahead with their plan, it will certainly help the dormitory’s coffers,” Wawan said, explaining that the dormitory would reap about Rp 100 million (US$11,000) from the meeting.
“However, they do not have a recommendation from the police, which is one of the requirements we asked from them.”
Due to the absence of the police recommendation, he said, the dormitory had not given the NGOs final approval.
“We have delayed all other bookings from Sept. 12 to Sept. 18. We are turning away other proposals because they would coincide with the NGOs’ meeting,” he said, adding that his office would wait until this weekend to resolve whether the group could use the dormitory.