Farmer Thawaf Aly from Jambi, Indonesia, showed great relief after judges in the district court declared himself innocent from trespassing and tilling the land that he had been working on his whole life. Palm oil company PT Erasakti Wira Forestama (EWF) accused Thawaf of encroaching on its property and working on the plantation land without its permission.
Thawaf was first named a suspect in December 2019. He had been undergoing 16 trials that began in February 2020, including virtual trials that were necessary due to the Covid-19 pandemic, before the court stated his acquittal on June 16th, 2020. Thawaf was represented by pro-bono lawyers from ILC Asia member the Consortium for Agrarian Reform's (KPA) Legal Aid Unit.
Thawaf is not only a farmer, but also a land rights defender. He decided to stand up against the EWF palm oil company to defend 46 farmer families in his community in Tanjung Jabung Timur District, Jambi. It all started when another farmer who Thawaf knew refused to sell his land to the company back in 2018. Thawaf then wrote a letter to the Jambi National Land Agency, urging the Agency not to grant the company's Right to Cultivate (Hak Guna Usaha) - a mandatory permit that corporations need to obtain prior to commencing operations in Indonesia - until the conflict was fully settled. EWF instead decided to press charges against Thawaf and the union he was a member of, the Jambi Peasants Union.
ILC Asia member KPA provided legal assistance through its Legal Aid Unit and designated its National Council member Iwan Nurdin as one of the expert witnesses during the trials. In line with the principle of Indonesia's Constitution and the 1960 Basic Agrarian Law, KPA together with their members will continue to fight against all forms of violence and criminalisation committed by companies and state apparatuses against peasants, indigenous peoples and land right defenders in Indonesia.
This good practice shown by our member is exemplary of ILC's commitment to providing effective actions against land grabbing and protecting land rights defenders. Businesses must be held accountable when they violate the people's right to land and natural resources, which they have inherited from their ancestors.
Story and photos by KPA