June 9, 2023
JAKARTA – Luhut Pandjaitan, a powerful senior minister in the Cabinet, took the witness stand at the East Jakarta District Court on Thursday as the plaintiff in a defamation case against two activists, defending his name from allegations of involvement with a mining business in restive Papua province.
Haris Azhar from the Lokataru Foundation and Fatia Maulidiyanti from the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) are being tried for defaming the coordinating maritime affairs and investment minister in a YouTube video, in which they alleged his connection to an extractive mining company that contributed to increased military activity in Intan Jaya.
Luhut, a former Army general, said he was offended at being called “lord” and “villain” in the comments. He also insisted that he did not own any business in resource-rich Papua, and that he did not play any role that led to the growing military presence in the province, one of the country’s poorest regions.
He said it was impossible in his official capacity of overseeing maritime affairs and investment to intervene in any military operation.
“I have never owned a business in Papua,” Luhut said.
“I was also called ‘lord’ and ‘villain’. For me, those words are very hurtful, particularly when I thought about my children and grandchildren [coming across the video], because digital footprints will never be lost.”
He went on to say that he had never been directly involved with any companies since he joined the Cabinet, as he preferred to focus on his duties as a coordinating minister.
Haris and Fatia are charged with violating the 2016 Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law.
The law is currently being amended to align with the revised Criminal Code and soften several provisions that critics have called “draconian”.
Haris and Fatia have denied calling Luhut a villain in the YouTube video, in which they made comments alleging the minister’s interests in Papua and highlighted controversial mining activities and increased military presence in Intan Jaya.
The defamation case began when Luhut reported Haris and Fatia to the police for defaming him by uploading their video online.
Haris and Fatia’s allegations against Luhut were based on a report titled Ekonomi-Politik Penempatan Militer di Papua: Kasus Intan Jaya (The political economy of the military presence in Papua: The case of Intan Jaya), published by a coalition of civil society organizations.
They claimed that the extractive mining activities in Papua were run by PT Tobacom Del Mandiri, a subsidiary of PT Toba Sejahtra Group, in which Luhut was said to own shares.
In his court testimony on Thursday, Luhut refuted Haris and Fatia’s claim about the ties between the two companies.
Around 100 police officers were deployed to guard the trial and to restrict entry to the courtroom, according to news reports.
Thursday’s hearing opened with some chaos, when the court refused to admit all members of the two activists’ legal team to the courtroom, saying that only 12 chairs were available.
The activists’ lawyers repeatedly raised objections during the hearing. These included occasions when Luhut’s legal team called the video “problematic” and when Luhut asked the judges to allow him to present WhatsApp messages between himself and Haris to the court, to prove that they had good relations in the past.
At the end of the hearing, presiding judge Cokorda Gede Arthana asked Haris and Luhut to shake hands and end the terse exchange between the plaintiff and the defendants.
Dozens of activists gathered outside the courthouse in support of Haris and Fatia, fearing that the case could shrink space for civic discourse in the country.