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Indonesia: Disruption Of Civil Society Water Forum An Attack On Freedoms

A global civil society alliance was disturbed by reports that a civil society forum on water rights in Bali has been disrupted with activists and organisers facing harassment and intimidation. The authorities must investigate these actions and take steps to protect civil society so that they are able to convene without any form of interference.

The People’s Water Forum (PWF) is a civil society coordinating platform for water justice movements around the world. They advocate for ensuring water access as a human right and challenge the privatisation and commercialisation of water resources. This year, the PWF organised a gathering in Denpasar, Bali, from 21-23 May around the 10th World Water Forum, which is hosted by the Indonesian Government, in Nusa Dua, Bali, from 18 to 25 May 2024

Ahead of the People’s Water Forum there were reports, that the authorities were harassing the Bintang Gana Foundation, a local organization representing the PWF national committee, since early May 2024, with visits to their directors’ house by police and military intelligence. The authorities also reportedly put pressure on the venue owner to postpone or cancel the forum. The social media accounts of PWF organizers were also hacked and the PWF website was trolled by individuals. Intelligence officers also monitored the accommodation of activists on 18 May.

On 20 May, a pre-event discussion hosted by the PWF at a hotel in Denpasar was violently disrupted by members of a local group called Patriot Garuda Nusantara (PGN). According to Amnesty International, the group had repeatedly visited the event site before the discussion, demanding the cancellation of the PWF’s event. Video footage shows the group destroying event banners and billboards and physically attacking forum participants. They accused the PWF of distracting the World Water Forum. Such groups are often used by the state or individuals to intimidate civil society and critics.

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Pedro Arrojo Agudo, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, was prevented from entering the PWF 2024 venue on 21 May as security forces were heavily guarding the venue. He and the PWF representatives accompanying him were forced to leave.

“At a time when the space for civil society and alternative voices is shrinking around the world, it is disgraceful that Indonesia, which prides itself as a champion of democracy, has disrupted a global civil society event to discuss the crucial issue of water rights and denied access to a UN expert. These incidents of harassment and intimidation are a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association which Indonesia has international human rights obligations to protect,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia researcher.

This is not the first time, events organised by civil society have been disrupted in Bali. In 2018, an alternative civil society conference on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank's annual meeting was cancelled due to pressure from the police. In November 2022, the Indonesian authorities disbanded the activities of civil society groups and harassed their organisers in Bali, ahead of the G20 Summit.

“The voices and engagement of civil society is crucial, in particular to ensure the protection of human rights and the Indonesian authorities are failing to ensure an enabling environment for them to convene. The government must hold the perpetrators involved in the disruption of the water forum to account and send a strong message that the work of civil society must be respected and protected,” added Benedict.

Civic space in Indonesia is rated as "Obstructed" by theCIVICUS Monitor.

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