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#SaveSeko Chapter One: The Never Give Up Seko

Written by Een Irawan Putra

That afternoon (Wednesday, May 24) Hairudin collected his motorcycle he brought to a workshop in the morning. He did not expect the repair cost to be that high, reaching IDR1.2 million. “The engine needed overhauling and some of its parts had to be replaced,” said he. He and two of his friends, Muhyuddin Ta’deka and Ikbal, are three Seko men who would take us to Seko. The meeting with Muhyuddin and Ikbal was an unforgettable one as they said they were so happy to eventually be able to meet the persons who had photographed them and their village eleven years ago when they were still in elementary school. They showed us a number of photos they keep in their laptops. Yes, in 2006 I did a 25-day travel from Seko to Rampi. To reach Sampi from Seko, I had to walk for three days, climbing the top of Takala’ Mountain, which reaches 2,200 meters above sea level. The mountain is where the regions of Seko and Rampi meet.

Our trip to Seko this time was to document how the community of Central Seko has been struggling in the last three years to defend their customary territories against a hydroelectric power plant project. The government’s response to the protest was quite bitter; 14 community members have been arrested. They were accused of moving thousands of people in a number of hamlets there to protest the project and were considered to pose a potential threat to the project workers. The judges of the Masamba District Court sentenced them to 7 months in prison.

Two days prior to the trip, in Masamba we tried to have an interview with four of the imprisoned: Amisandi, Piter Karla, Andri Karyo and Dominggu C. Paonganan. It was not an easy task to ask for an interview and make a video. There were so many procedures we had to go through. We had scarcely shot for a few minutes when we were stopped. The warden (of Rutan Kelas IIB Masamba) Efendi Wahyudi told us that we had to get a permit to have an interview and make a video from the Head of the Correctional Division of the Law and Human Rights Office of South Sulawesi in Makassar as the prosecutor had filed a plea, and a permit from the Head of the Masamba Court was needed to interview Amisandi.

Unable to interview them, we left the prison and prepared for the trip the next day. Amisandi, Piter Karla, Andri Karyo and Dominggu C. Paonganan provided us with some information and advice on what to do when we were in Seko. “We’re having a very difficult situation here. The lawyer of the 13 Seko who had been convicted does not take legal measures to defend and struggle for our customary lands. Also, he is not open with Aliansi Seko Menggugat (the Alliance of Contesting Seko) and other indigenous people’s legal supporters. The project completed a survey in April 2008 and is now entering the land acquisition stage. A special land acquisition committee has been formed by the Regent of North Luwu. He has summoned the heads of Tanamakeleang Village, Hoyane Village, Embonatana Village and Hono Village to have a talk with him. Should there be no legal measures and the struggle continues, we could be brought to the State Administrative Court (PTUN). If we lose, and the company pays the indemnity, what would become of the Seko? The regional government may issue a decree supporting the project, supported by the villages’ governments and customary leaders, then what can we do? Our imprisonment would be meaningless then. The struggle of 80% of the Seko against the project would be of no avail because of a despicable act of a few,” said  Amisandi.

Amisandi also expressed great worries about their big families in the village, who now have no one to back them up. Those who are vocal enough and fully aware of the situations outside Seko are in prison. “The lawyer of the convicted 13 has never had the intention to visit Seko. He has never visited us here in prison, let alone visiting Seko! The community keeps discussing how to deal with such a lawyer. We need to make a consensus if we want to replace the lawyer. It is one of our weaknesses here. Our situation is not good. We badly need aid and support. We are powerless in the face of a 25-trillion-rupiah project,” he said.