Category Archives: Briefing by Papuan Civil Society members

Merauke Burns – but were the plantations to blame?


First Published: November 20, 2015


The rains have finally arrived, putting out the forest fires that raged across Indonesia through the last few months. Forest burning takes place every dry season, but this year an especially strong El Nino phenomenon meant that the dry season was longer and dryer, and the fires were especially bad.

The worst crises were, as in other years, on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, where human pressure on the forest is high, and deep peat soils mean that fires can burn for months. However this dry season there were also significantly more fires than usual in southern Papua, in Merauke and Mappi regencies. Timika, nearly 600 kilometres away, suffered from smoke haze as a result.

Merauke has become in recent years the main focus for the growth of industrial agriculture in Papua, due to various incarnations of  a central government project, the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate, and associated oil palm plantations. But is there a link between these development plans and the fires? awasMIFEE presents two articles to address this question. The first is an analysis of satellite photographs in two of Korindo’s plantations where clear evidence of fire on is found on newly-deforested land, by Sam Lawson of Earthsight. This article aims to complement that research by looking at the link between fire and deforestation in other plantations over the last four years, and the wider situation in Merauke.

Many fires outside plantation areas.

Fire hotspot data shows that the fires were found throughout the southern part of Merauke, where the vegetation is made up of mixed forest and grassland. Some of these fires were within plantation concession boundaries (unsurprisingly, since undeveloped plantation concessions cover well over a million hectares, more than a quarter of Merauke’s land area). There were a few concentrations of hotspots in areas where plantation companies are known to be active (Medco’s timber plantation in Zanegi village and woodchip factory in Boepe, Rajawali’s sugar cane plantation near Domande, PT Agriprima Cipta Persada and PT Agrinusa Persada Mulia’s oil palm plantations in Muting). However, as there were also many, many other fires away from these areas, there is insufficient evidence to conclude in these cases that fires were started by the companies.

Another important point is that some of the highest concentrations of fires were in areas where there are no plantations planned – such as Dolok Island, and the western part of Mappi Regency. It’s also worth pointing out that there were also a lot of fires across the border in Papua New Guinea, especially along the Fly River which flows close to the border.

The conclusion is: while it is certainly possible that some of the fires were connected with agricultural development, the high number of hotspots outside areas earmarked for plantations means it is likely that many of them were started for other reasons.

The big exception: Korindo.

In the more densely forested north-eastern part of Merauke, there were less fires. However when you look at where those fires were, you see a very strong pattern – many of them were clustered within oil palm concessions. What’s more, the hotspots (marked in orange) show a very strong correlation with data on areas deforested in 2015.1

Merauke Plantation Fires 2015

Three of those concessions are owned by the Korindo Group. PT Tunas Sawa Erma (which has been operating since 1998 but has not developed the whole concession) PT Dongin Prabhawa (which started land clearance in 2011) and PT Papua Agro Lestari (which appears to have just started clearing land in the last few months). Another is PT Bio Inti Agrindo (operating since 2012), which is owned by Daewoo International Corporation, but known to have a close relationship to Korindo.

Here’s a closer look at two of them: PT Dongin Prabhawa and PT Bio Inti Agrindo:

PT dp dan PT BIA 2015

This is quite strong evidence to indicate that these companies may have been using fire to clear land, a practice which is illegal in Indonesia. This evidence is further reinforced if we look at fire data for previous years.  It appears that there have been fires in the concessions each year, and the fire locations closely follow each successive year’s cutting plans. The implication is that Korindo and Daewoo International companies appear to have been regularly using fire to clear land since 2012.

The following maps use a different source of deforestation data – tree cover loss data from the University of Maryland – which gives an indication of which bits of forest were cut each year, and this is overlaid with the hotspots detected by NASA MODIS satellites the same year. Both sets of data are available to browse on the website, but due to the way that site is structured you can’t see them simultaneously like this.

Here’s some views of PT Dongin Prabhawa’s concession in 2012,2013 and 2014. The purple areas were the areas deforested that year. The orange dots are the hotspots recorded in the same year. You can see that in 2012, there were several fires in the area cleared, in 2013 fires burned in areas cleared that year and the year before, and then in 2014 fires broke out in more newly cleared blocks.

PT Dongin Prabhawa 2012-2014A similar pattern can be seen in PT Bio Inti Agrindo’s concession. Forest clearance started in the north-western corner of the concession, and moved eastward, including in 2014 clearing the corridor that eventually connects the larger eastern block of the concession. There were concentrations of hotspots in 2012 and 2013 in the western block, at the same time that deforestation was taking place there.bca bia 2012-4

Just to the north of PT Bio Inti Agrindo is PT Berkat Cipta Abadi, another Korindo subsidiary which started clearing in 2012. Here too, the fires closely mirrored the deforestation pattern, with a particularly high concentration in 2014.

  1. Deforestation data is from Sam Lawson’s analysis of Landsat satellites, tracing the difference between images dated late January 2015 to late October 2015.  ↩

Oil palm plantation development & forest fires in southern Papua, September-October 2015

by Sam Lawson, Earthsight via AwasMIFEE



Analysis of satellite data clearly demonstrates forest fires burning in areas undergoing conversion for oil palm in two locations in southern Papua. One of these areas is intact primary forest, while part of the other is on peat soil. The concessions concerned are both owned by the large Korean conglomerate Korindo.

It is illegal in Indonesia for companies to clear land using fire, and oil palm concession holders are also legally required to have in place appropriate fire prevention and fire-fighting measures. Though on its own the evidence below does not prove any wrongdoing by the company or its subsidiaries or contractors, it should justify further investigation by the Indonesian authorities.

location map

Figure 1: Southern Papua, showing boundaries of oil palm conversion concessions (yellow), forest clearance for oil palm during September-October 2015 (red) and location of case studies below.

Case Study 1: PT Papua Agro Lestari (Korindo group)1

Between 1st September and 9th November 2015, more than 230 fire hotspots were detected by the NASA MODIS satellite within an area of intact primary forest undergoing plantation development near the PNG border in PT Papua Agro Lestari, Merauke district (see Figure 2).

PT Papua Agro Lestari

Figure 2: Fire hotspots 1st Sept – 9th Nov 2015 in PT Papua Agro Lestari (yellow boundary). Red boundary shows area of forest cleared for plantation development up to 24th October 2015. Green background shows that the area was previously intact primary forest.2

Landsat images confirm the existence of fires within this area, and clearly show how they are related to oil palm plantation development.

On 6th September 2015, a fire is clearly visible burning in the plantation (see Figure 4). The next cloud-free image, from 24th October 2015, also shows a fire burning, in an area which was still primary forest 7 weeks earlier (Figure 3).

In just 7 weeks between during Sept-October 2015, 1000 hectares of primary forest were cleared, a much faster rate than could plausibly have been achieved by other means.
PT PAL satellite6-9-2015

pt pal satellite 24-10-2015Figures 3 & 4: Fires visible in oil palm plantation under development in PT PAL, September & October 2015

Case Study 2: PT Tunas Sawaerma (Korindo)

During the same period, more than 100 fire hotspots were recorded by the NASA satellite in an area currently being cleared of degraded primary forest for oil palm in PT Tunas Sawaerma, a concession in Boven Digoel district which is also owned by Korean conglomerate Korindo (see Figure 5).

PT Tunas Sawaerma

Figure 5: Fire hotspots 1st Sept-9th Nov 2015 inside Korindo’s PT Tunas Sawaerma oil palm concession (yellow). Red/orange boundary shows area of forest cleared for plantation development up to 24th October 2015. Blue line indicates peat soils. The orange boundary shows the areas cleared between 6th September and 24th October 2015 (( Sources: Peat soils – Wetlands International, 2004. For all other data see reference for Figure 2 ))

Again, Landsat satellite images confirm the existence of fires within this area of recent development. An image from 24th October clearly shows a large fire within the area under development. Comparison with an image from the beginning of September shows that the area concerned remained forested previously, though new plantation roads had been cut (see Figures 6 and 7).

Many of the fire hotspots in the Korindo concession are on peat soils, as is some of the area newly cleared by fire during September/October 2015 (see Figure 5).

PT TSE satellite 6-9-2015

PT TSE satellite 24-10-2015

Figures 6 & 7: Fire visible in forest area in process of development into oil palm, Korindo’s PT Tunas Sawaerma. The images were taken on 6th September 2015 (figure 6) and 24th October 2015 (figure 7)

  1. The Linked-In page of the Assistant Manager of Plasma (Smallholder) plantation development at PT PAL identifies the company as being part of the Korindo group –  [awasMIFEE note: previously on this site it had been thought that ownership of PT Papua Agro Lestari had been transferred to the Daewoo International Corporation. Although the situation is confusing, and there appears to be close cooperation between the two companies, several pieces of evidence indicate that the company is still part of  the Korindo Group]  ↩
  2. Sources: Background – Degraded (light green) and intact (dark green) primary forest, from Margono, B. Primary forest cover loss in Indonesia over 2000–2012. Nature Climate Change,doi:10.1038/nclimate2277; spots – NASA MODIS fire hotspots, “NASA Active Fires.” NASA FIRMS. Accessed through Global Forest Watch on 15th November 2015; concession boundary – Ministry of Forestry GIS portal map of Forestland releases, accessed 9th November 2015; extent of new oil palm development (red/orange line) – based on analysis of Landsat satellite images from 25/1/15, 6/9/15, 24/10/15.  ↩
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Indonesian Air Force Members Torture Amsal Marandof and Ida Marandof at the Arafat Village, Samofa District, Biak

Urgent Action / Verified Field Report

by JPIC, GKI-TP Synod*

November 23, 2015

On June 5th, 2015, 14:20hours, a member of the Air Force heavily maltreated Amsal Marandof (22 Years old), leading to an injury above his right eyebrow.  As Amsal’s elder sister named Ida Marandof (Around 26) wanted to intervene in the beating to help her brother she was severely beaten on the chest by one Air Force member causing the victim to loose consciousness.

Biodata of Victims:
Name : Amsal Marandof
Age : 22 Years
Date/Place of Birth : Biak, 4 April 1994
Occupation : private sector
Gender : Male
Status : Single

Name : Ida Marandof
Age : +/- 26 years
Date/Place of Birth : –
Occupation : private sector
Gender : Female
Status : Married

Case Narrative


On Wednesday June 5, 2015, around 14:20 pm, local Biak man Amsal Marandof went to his brother’s grave on the left side of the “Papan Kuning” road.  Amsal was bringing a machete with him to cut the grass around the grave. When Amsal arrived there he saw 2 Army Air Force soldiers approximately 200 meters ahead of him, following activities on a piece of land that had previously led to a conflict between Amsal’s family and the Army Air Force. For that reason Amsal walked
over to them and intended to asked what they were doing at the location.
As The Victim approached 2 air force members, one security force member panicked and stepped backwards and fell down. Thereupon the Air Force member became angry and kicked Amsal into the face. The kick caused a bleeding injury above the victim’s right eyebrow.

The air force member’s aggressive behaviour made Amsal angry, so he fought back using the machete with the intention strike the Air Force member’s head and hit his helmet. Subsequently,  Amsal panicked and retreated.  After several minutes,  many Air Force members came running out of their headquarters to chase after Amsal.  One air force member ran towards him and pointed his gun at the Amsal.  Other Air Force members threw wooden sticks and rocks at him shouting “You are an OPM member” (Papua Freedom Movement).

Thereupon the victim sought rescue at Arafat work shop. Around 50 Air Force members caught him in front of the workshop, where they kicked and punched Amsal.

When the victims’ elder sister named Ida Marandof (26) received information about the incident she directly went to the location to help her brother, by stopping the security forces (from beating him).  As Ida Marandof intervened in the beating one of the Army Air Force hit her on the chest, causing the victim to lose consciousness, so Ida was immediately brought to the Air Force Base Hospital at Singamangaraja Street, Biak City.  Amsal Marandof victim was brought to Biak
District Police Office where he was taken into custody.
Ida received medical treatment and was supplied with oxygen. As she became conscious, a member of the Army Air Force questioned Ida, but she refused to answer.

After that the Air Force member gave Ida Marandof IDR100.000 (less than US$10) as transport cost and said “This problem ends here ya”. Subsequently Ida left the hospital, still feeling pain in her stomach.

Around 15.15 local Papuan time, local residents became angry and blocked the “Papan Kuning” road in front of the grave of Amsal and Ida Marandof’s brother.  The demonstrators cut the trees and broke some bottles in the middle of the road which caused a traffic jam.  Around 17:00 the road block was reopened by the community members and police.
Pictures of Amsal and Ida Marandof revealing injuries caused by members of the Indonesian Airforce (JPIC/WPM)

Wound above Amsal Marandof's right eye
Wound above Amsal Marandof’s right eye
Amsal's body is covered with bruises caused by Airforce military members
Amsal’s body is covered with bruises caused by Airforce military members
Ida Marandof during the interview
Ida Marandof during the interview


*Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Desk of the
Gereja Kristen Injili di Tanah Papua (GKI – Evangelical Christian Church in Papua)

Warinussy: Continued Brimob police Detention of Alexander Nekenem is Rights Violation

Statement by Yan Christian Warinussy, Executive Director of LP3BH

10 November 2015

Speaking on behalf of the LP3BH – Manokwari [Institute of Research,
Analysis and Development of Legal Aid] as well as the Co-ordinator of
the defence team of Alexander Nekenem and his colleagues, it is my
opinion that the Prosecutor, Syahrun SH from the Prosecutor’s Office
in Manokwari has violated the basic human rights of one of my clients.

A statement issued by the Court stated that the length of
detention of my clients should be prolonged for sixty days, from 30
September till 28 November 2015.

A copy of this decision was sent to the Director of the Prison in
Manokwari. But where should these extra days be spent, in which

Why is it that that Alexander Nekenem and his colleagues continue
to be held in custody at the Brimob Command Centre. Is this the prison
where Alexander Nekenem and his colleagues are to spend the rest of
their detention?

Furthermore, it is clear that the Prosecutor in this case has
violated the rights one of the colleagues of Alexander Nekemen. This
is all the more so in view of the fact that this colleague, Narko
Murib, was taken ill during a hearing in the case and should therefore
have been allowed to be absent from the Court and held in a custodial
cell at the State Prison in Manokwari.

The Chairman of the Panel of Judges instructed the Prosecutor to
take the afore-mentioned prisoner for examination and given whatever
medical treatment he required.

However, regrettably, the Prosecutor’s Office did not act to
ensure that Narko Murib was taken for a medical check-up. All that
happened was that his blood pressure was checked and he was given
some tablets to bring his temperature down.

As a result, Narko Murib was unable to attend the court hearing
on Tuesday, 10 November because he was still unwell.


Yan Christian Warinussy is also the Recipient of the John Humphrey Freedom Award 2015 in Canada, Human Rights Defender in the Land of Papua, and
Member of the Steering Commission of Foker LSM for the Land of Papua.

Translated by Carmel Budiardjo, Recipient of the Right Livelihood Award, 1995.

HRW: Indonesia: End Access Restrictions to Papua

Press release

For Immediate Release
***To download video:〈=ENG&showEmbargoed=true

Indonesia: End Access Restrictions to Papua
Official Obstacles for Foreign Media and Monitors Defy Presidential Order

(Jakarta, November 11, 2015) – Indonesian authorities continue to restrict access by foreign journalists and rights monitors to Indonesia’s easternmost provinces of Papua, raising serious concerns about the government’s commitment to media freedom, Human Rights Watch said today in a new report. The restrictions defy a May 10, 2015 announcement by Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo – popularly known as Jokowi – that accredited foreign media would have unimpeded access to Papua.

“Government access restrictions have for far too long made Papua Indonesia’s ‘forbidden island’ for foreign media and rights monitors,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Blocking media access on overbroad ‘security’ grounds deters foreign news reporting about Papua, raising troubling questions about what the Indonesian government might be trying to hide there.”

The 75-page report, “Something to Hide?: Indonesia’s Restrictions on Media Freedom and Rights Monitoring in Papua,” documents the government’s role in obstructing access to the provinces of Papua and West Papua (collectively referred to as “Papua”), including government backlash since Jokowi’s announcement.

The decades-old access restrictions on Papua are rooted in government suspicion of the motives of foreign nationals in a region still troubled by widespread corruption, environmental degradation, public dissatisfaction with Jakarta, and a small pro-independence insurgency.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 107 journalists, editors, publishers, and representatives of domestic and international nongovernmental organizations for the report. Foreign correspondents describe an opaque and unpredictable permit application process in which they often never received a final response. Many have waited fruitlessly for months – and in some cases years – for approval.

Jokowi’s May 10 announcement has faced strong resistance by some senior government and security forces officials, Human Rights Watch said. The government has also not followed that announcement with a specific written directive, which opened space for non-compliance by state agencies and security forces opposed to loosening restrictions on foreign observer access to Papua. Various senior officials have since publicly contradicted the president’s statement. Even the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has announced that it has “liquidated” the 18-agency “Clearing House” that previously was used to vet journalists, has confirmed that prior police permission is still required for foreign media access to Papua. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in some cases also continuing to ask some journalists seeking to travel to Papua to provide, in advance, details of their likely sources and dates of travel.

Foreign correspondents have reported mixed results from their efforts to take advantage of the announced loosening of Papua access restrictions. For instance, after Jokowi’s announcement, the Indonesian embassy in Bangkok processed and granted in just 15 days a Papua reporting visa for Cyril Payen, a Bangkok-based correspondent for France 24 television. The embassy also assured him that he was not obligated to have any check-ins with police or immigration officials while in Papua. “Whether I was lucky or not, I don’t know,” Payen said. “They really opened up.”

However, a Jakarta-based foreign correspondent showed Human Rights Watch a copy of correspondence with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from July 2015 in which a ministry official listed both a surat jalan, or travel permit, from the National Police’s Security Intelligence Agency, as well as a “letter of notification” specifying the journalist’s “purpose, time and places of coverage in Papua,” as prerequisites for access to Papua.

Foreign journalists who ultimately are granted Papua access permits often face surveillance and harassment after arrival in Papua. Several said that they were required to have an official “minder” from the State Intelligence Agency (Badan Intelijen Negara, BIN) for the full duration of their visits, significantly limiting their ability to report on issues deemed sensitive.

“President Jokowi needs to bridge the gap between rhetoric and reality by putting the guarantee of unimpeded foreign media access to Papua in writing,” Kine said. “He should make it clear to government officials and security forces alike that obstructing journalists is unacceptable in Papua and anywhere else in Indonesia.”

Indonesian journalists – particularly ethnic Papuans – are also vulnerable to restrictions on media freedom in Papua, Human Rights Watch said. Reporting on corruption and land grabs can be dangerous anywhere in Indonesia, but national and local journalists told Human Rights Watch that those dangers are magnified in Papua. In addition, journalists there face harassment, intimidation, and at times even violence from officials, members of the public, and pro-independence forces when they report on sensitive political topics and human rights abuses.

Journalists in Papua say they routinely self-censor to avoid reprisals for their reporting. That environment of fear and distrust is increased by the security forces’ longstanding and documented practice of paying some journalists to be informers and even deploying agents to work undercover in newsrooms as journalists. These practices are carried out both to minimize negative coverage and to encourage positive reporting about the political situation, and they generate distrust among journalists.

Representatives of international nongovernmental organizations, United Nations experts, and foreign academics have also faced official obstacles to visiting Papua. Since 2009, the International Committee for the Red Cross, the Dutch development organization Cordaid, and the Peace Brigades International have all limited or closed their Papua-based operations due to pressures from the Indonesian government.

In 2013, the Indonesian government blocked a proposed visit by Frank La Rue, then the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Diplomatic sources in Geneva told La Rue that the Indonesian government froze his requested visit due to his inclusion of Papua in his proposed itinerary. “[The Indonesian mission in Geneva] asked what areas I want to go to [and] I said Jakarta and bigger places like Bali, but for me, I said, it was very important to visit Aceh and Papua,” La Rue told Human Rights Watch. “They said ‘Great, we’ll get back to you.’ What it meant was that they postponed the dates and put the trip off indefinitely.”

“It’s clear from our research that removing access restrictions is not a silver bullet to resolve Papua’s deep-seated problems or dispel the suspicions of Indonesian officials toward foreign media and other observers,” Kine said. “But greater transparency and access are essential elements of a rights-respecting future for Papua to throw sunshine on abuses of power that for too long have remained hidden from view.”

For accounts from the report, please see below.

“Something to Hide?: Indonesia’s Restrictions on Media Freedom and Rights Monitoring in Papua” is available at:

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Indonesia, please visit:

For more information, please contact:
In Jakarta, Andreas Harsono (English, Indonesian): +62-815-950-9000 (mobile); or
In Jakarta, Phelim Kine (English, Mandarin): +62-812 10877314 (mobile) or +1-212-810-0469 (US mobile); or Twitter: @PhelimKine
In San Francisco, Brad Adams (English): +1 347-463-3531 (mobile); or
In Sydney, Elaine Pearson (English): +61-400-505-186 (mobile); or Twitter: @pearsonelaine
In Washington, DC, John Sifton (English): +1-646-479-2499 (mobile); or Twitter: @johnsifton

Accounts from “Something to Hide?”

Rohan Redheya, a Dutch freelance photojournalist who applied in The Hague for a journalist visa to Papua in July 2014, said that although the Indonesian embassy informed him that the approval process was “around two weeks,” the embassy never responded to his application. “I know many journalists who got ignored [by Indonesian visa issuance offices], and they simply never heard something again [after submitting a Papua access application].”

“The Clearing House system of consensus voting means any one person has veto power, which generally means that the opinion of the most paranoid person in the meeting carries the day. These restrictions fuel all manner of speculation about Papua: the notion that the Indonesian government has ‘something to hide’ finds purchase. But the Indonesian government finds itself in the illogical position where they hear of inflammatory reporting and this actually makes them impose restrictions, and then those restrictions prevent good journalists from writing of the complexities of the place.”
– Bobby Anderson, a social development specialist and researcher who worked in Papua from 2010 to 2015, describing the government’s “Clearing House” screening of foreign journalists seeking to report from Papua.

Marie Dhumieres, a French journalist, received a police permit to go to Papua in September 2015. A week later the police arrested and questioned three Papuan activists whom she interviewed. She published this tweet to President Jokowi, and the activists were soon released: “So Mr @jokowi, foreign journalists are free to work anywhere in Papua but the people we interview get arrested after we leave?”

“If you read all the news reports in all newspapers in Manokwari [in Papua], you will see that their sources are almost all, almost 100 percent, government officials. Their sources are always government officials, police officers, or military officers.”
– Agusta Bunay, a Papua Barat TV presenter, on self-censorship among journalists fearful of possible reprisals for independent reporting.