A protest in which 28 Indonesian sewed their mouths shut has led to an inquiry into a logging concession on Padang Island. The Ministry of Forestry has formed a mediation team to look into the controversial concession, reports Kompas. Around a hundred natives of Padang Island rallied for weeks against the logging concession held by PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP), which covers 37 percent of the island’s total land.
The team will be selected from Indonesia’s Presidium of the National Forestry Council (DKN) including a mix of government officials, scientists, NGO, and business people. The inquiry will not have decision-making powers, but will report their recommendation to the Ministry.
The protesting islanders argue that the 2009 concession occurs on customary lands, threatening both the environment and the small-scale agriculture on which they depend. They demand that the Indonesian government revoke the logging concession, which is largely located on peatland rainforests, from RAPP.
For its part, RAPP says they have seen no proof that the concession is on customary land, but they will abandon the concession if proof comes forward. The logging company says it secured approval from 14 village chiefs, though three have since bolted from the agreement.
"We’re not even sure if the protesters are actually from Pulau Padang or not," RAPP president commissioner, Tony Wenas, said as reported by the Jakarta Post. "For all we know, there are ex-cons among the protesters."
An Indonesian NGO, Greenomics, has released a report alleging that RAPP’s parent company, Asian Pacific Resources International Holdings Limited (APRIL), has wrongly claimed it has set aside 4,102 hectares of the Padang Island concession (around 10 percent of the total) for conservation. Greenomics argues that the touted “protected areas” were not such at all, since Indonesian law required the land to be set aside.
"None of the land set aside for conservation […] was set aside at the company’s own initiative. Rather, all the land was required to be set aside under Indonesian law," the report reads. The report further argues that one of the main reasons behind the concession is a corporate need for raw materials taken from clearing the standing forest, garnering between 1.43 and 2.15 million square meters of materials for APRIL’s paper mills.
Earlier this year, RAPP was accused of clearing high conservation value forest in Riau province on Sumatra. The forest was a known wildlife corridor for the Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae), listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List, among many other species.
APRIL did not respond to requests for comment.