Anti-GE activists released, but passports confiscated
Week of Rice Action (WORA) 2008, 9 April 2008
After being hijacked yesterday by the Jakarta Police for attending a people's demonstration against GE (genetic engineered) rice outside the Ministry of Agriculture, and then being interrogated at the Immigration Office for nine hours, the 15 detained overseas activists were finally released at 3 am today but without their passports.
Their passports were confiscated by the Immigration Office for further 'investigation'. They have been asked to present themselves at the Immigration Office tomorrow morning for the 'conclusion of the investigation'.
The foreign participants including Sarojeni Rengam (PAN AP, Malaysia) and Rhoda Gueta (Asian Peasants' Coalition) and 13 others, all foreigners, from Malaysia, Philippines, Korea, Thailand, India and Pakistanwere attending the rally in solidarity with the Indonesian groups protesting the promotion of GE rice. They were also calling for saving the diversity of local rice to ensure people’s food sovereignty.
About to leave for a dialogue with ASEAN officials, they were in a bus in front of the Ministry of Agriculture when the driver of the bus was asked by the police to drive to the police station instead. There they were detained and questioned for five hours. Subsequently, the police demanded for the passports of the foreign participants which the latter refused to hand over. They were then shunted to the immigration office.
They are threatened by the Immigration officials with violating the Indonesian law which prevents foreigners from indulging in any activity against the government. If convicted, they could be jailed for 5 years or fined Rupiah 25 million each (US$ 2,718) and face deportation.
'If the immigration office thinks that protesting GE rice is an activity against the government, then it is stating a very narrow interpretation of the law,' said Sarojeni Rengam (PAN AP, Malaysia) in a telephone interview. During the interrogation of the participants, it was noted that Pakistanis and Sri Lankans were subjected to intense grilling by the Immigration Police. The participants were also upset by the behaviour of the police who, they said, 'hijacked' their bus and kept them uninformed about the situation.
It is expected that foreign participants with the local organizers and their lawyers will meet today to plan further their course of action.
The anti-GE rally in Jakarta, which was part of WORA (Week of Rice Action) that celebrates the rice culture of Asia, was jointly organized by Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PANAP), Koalisi Rakyat untuk Kedaulatan Pangan (KRKP), Aliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria (AGRA), Gabungan Serikat Buruh Independen (GSBI), Front Mahasiswa Nasional (FMN) and the Workers' Union
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Biju Negi, PAN AP