Indonesia: Judge turns down lawsuit on forest fire case in Riau

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 9 Nov 16;

Citing legal technicalities, the Pekanbaru District Court turned down a lawsuit filed by a local resident demanding a pretrial hearing against a controversial warrant ( SP3 ) issued by Riau Police to terminate investigations into 15 companies suspected to have been involved in several forest fires and illegal land clearings in the province last year.

The court did not touch on the substance of the lawsuit, which included the contention that the police did not have a strong reason to drop the case. Instead, judge Sorta Ria Neva focused her ruling on procedural matters.

The judge concluded that Ferry Sapta, as plaintiff, did not meet the legal requirements to file a civil lawsuit (CLS) on behalf of other citizens.

Like all citizens, said the judge, Ferry had the right to file a CLS, but the plaintiff failed to send the required notifications to the defendants.

According to law, notification letters have to be sent to defendants 60 days before a lawsuit is filed with a court and copies of the letters have to be sent to the local district court. However, no such notification letters were found.

“That’s why the pretrial hearing proposed by the plaintiff has been denied,” said Sorta, adding that Ferry was also obliged to pay Rp 5,000 for court expenses.

“The ruling on the pretrial hearing is final. There are no further legal avenues available after that,” said the judge.

The police claimed they decided to discontinue investigations into the companies in January because of a lack of evidence. The decision sparked anger among local farmers and environmentalists.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry expressed deep disappointment because the police’s decision went against the government’s determination to punish those who were responsible for the severe forest fires caused by land clearings.

Last year’s forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan attracted global attention because they caused severe health problems for people in the provinces and neighboring countries and massive damage to forests.

The House of Representatives demanded National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian replace the provincial police chief. Newly appointed Riau Police chief Brig. Gen. Zulkarnain indicated that the force had made procedural mistakes in issuing the SP3.

“We have made an internal evaluation. It is true that there are a few things that should be corrected,” Zulkarnain said at the House last month.

Meanwhile, a lawyer with the Riau Police, Nirwan, said that the ruling was in accordance with the evidence presented during the hearing.

“There was no preliminary evidence found indicating that the corporations committed the crime of burning fields,” Nirwan said after the court ruled.

The spokesman of the plaintiff’s legal team, Mayandri Zuzarman, expressed disappointment against the ruling, saying that the fires and the smoky haze had severely harmed people.

“As he is one of the affected people, how come the plaintiff was declared to have no legal standing to file a lawsuit for a pretrial hearing?” Mayandri asked.

“This is not over yet. The lawsuit for a pretrial hearing is just an initial stage. We will show the government that the people will not remain silent against the SP3,” he said.

A group of non-government organizations have also planned to challenge the police decision.

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