Lithium Nevada Sues Tribal Members and Activists

Lithium Nevada Sues Tribal Members and Activists

Editor’s Note: In order to deter the tribal members and activists from fighting for Thacker Pass, Lithium Nevada has sued them. Unsurprisingly, as a corporation, they have greater funds to sustain their legal action. We appeal for all who can to support in whatever way you can. The details for financial donations are at the end of the post.

Lithium Nevada Corporation has filed a lawsuit against Protect Thacker Pass and seven people for opposing the Thacker Pass lithium mine.

The lawsuit is similar to what is called a “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation,” or SLAPP suit, aimed at shutting down free speech and protest. The suit aims to ban the prayerful land defenders from the area and force them to pay monetary damages which could total millions of dollars.

“This lawsuit is targeting Native Americans and their allies for a non-violent prayer to protect the 1865 Thacker Pass massacre site,” said Terry Lodge, attorney working with the group. “These people took a moral stand in the form of civil disobedience. They are being unjustly targeted with sweeping charges that have little relationship to the truth, and we will vigorously defend them.”

The lawsuit targets Dean Barlese, respected elder and spiritual leader from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, Dorece Sam from the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, Bhie-Cie Zahn-Nahtzu (Te-Moak Shoshone and Washoe), Bethany Sam from the Standing Rock Sioux and Kutzadika’a Paiute Tribes, Founding Director of Community Rights US Paul Cienfuegos, and Max Wilbert and Will Falk of Protect Thacker Pass, which is also named in the suit.

They are charged with Civil Conspiracy, Nuisance, Trespass, Tortious Interference with Contractual Relations, Tortious Interference with Prospective Economic Advantage, and Unjust Enrichment.

As part of the lawsuit, Lithium Nevada has been granted a Temporary Restraining Order which restricts the defendants and “any third party acting in concert” with them from interfering with construction, blocking access roads, or even being in the area. The accused parties are not involved in planning further protest activity at the mine site.

Regardless, these allegations are alarming to the Great Basin Native American communities who believe their religious practices are protected by the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978. The lawsuit’s language places fear in the hearts of Native American people who want to pray and visit their ancestors’ gravesites.

The case references instances of non-violent prayer and protest that took place on April 25th, and a prayer camp named after Ox Sam (survivor of the 1865 massacre and ancestor of Dorece Sam and Dean Barlese) which was established at Thacker Pass on May 11th. On June 8th, that camp was raided and dismantled by police. One young indigenous woman was arrested and transported to jail inside a pitch-black box. In the aftermath of the raid, a ceremonial fire was extinguished, sacred objects were put in trash bags, and tipi poles were broken.

The American Indian Religious Freedom Act states that it is “the policy of the United States to protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religion of the American Indian…including…access to sites.”

Dorece Sam, President of the Native American Church of the State of Nevada:

“I take my grandkids to Peehee Mu’huh to teach them to pray for our unburied ancestors whose remains are scattered there, to collect our holy plants, to hunt and fish, and to collect medicinal herbs. The ancestors who were killed at Thacker Pass have never been given the proper prayers for their spirits. Lithium Nevada is desecrating our unceded lands and our ancestors’ resting places.”

Dean Barlese, respected elder and spiritual leader from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe:

“The Indian wars are continuing in 2023, right here. America and the corporations who control it should have finished off the ethnic genocide, because we’re still here. My great-great-grandfather fought for this land in the Snake War and we will continue to defend the sacred. Lithium Nevada is a greedy corporation telling green lies.”

Bethany Sam:

“Our people couldn’t return to Thacker Pass for fear of being killed in 1865, and now in 2023 we can’t return or we’ll be arrested. Meanwhile, bulldozers are digging our ancestors graves up. This is what Indigenous peoples continue to endure. That’s why I stood in prayer with our elders leading the way.”

Bhie-Cie Zahn-Nahtzu:

“Lithium Nevada is a greedy corporation on the wrong side of history when it comes to environmental racism and desecration of sacred sites. It’s ironic to me that I’m the trespasser because I want to see my ancestral land preserved.”

Paul Cienfuegos:

“Virtually every single accusation against us is a lie, and of course the corporation’s leaders know this. But our actions have scared them, so they are lashing out against classic nonviolent direct-action tactics. And this is yet another prime example of why we need to dismantle the structures of law that grant so many so-called constitutional ‘rights’ to business corporations, like access to the courts.”

Max Wilbert, Protect Thacker Pass:

“Around the world, a land defender is killed every two days. Murdering activists is hard to get away with in the United States, so corporations do this instead. This lawsuit is aimed at destroying the lives of people non-violently defending the land. But we’re not giving up. There are millions of people opposing this mine, and this fight will continue.”

Will Falk:

“I’ve been involved in directly petitioning the courts for two years to enforce tribal rights to consultation without success. Now Paiutes and Shoshones are being sued for peacefully defending the final resting places of their massacred ancestors. Lithium Nevada is just another mining corporation bullying Native Americans once again. This pattern has got to stop.”

Lithium Nevada corporation has been locked in legal battles since 2021, when four environmental groups, a local rancher, and several tribes sued the Federal Government to attempt to overturn the permits for the mine. The suits allege failures of consultation, violation of endangered species law and water laws, and dozens of other infractions. The most recent filing in an ongoing Federal Court case brought by three local tribes was filed on Friday, arguing that Lithium Nevada needs to halt construction while it consults with tribes about the Thacker Pass massacre sites. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California will hear oral arguments in other cases later this month.

The news comes as Lithium Nevada’s parent corporation, Lithium Americas, has been implicated in four alleged human rights violations and environmental crimes related to their lithium mining operation in Cauchari-Oloroz, Argentina.

The defendants are seeking attorneys to join the legal defense team, and monetary donations to their legal defense fund. You can donate via credit or debit card, PayPal (please include a note that your donation is for Thacker Pass legal defense), or by check.

Lithium Nevada

The Cult of Civilization

The Cult of Civilization

Editor’s Note: The following article compares civilization to a cult, by questioning some of the basic assumptions of civilization. Civilization, particularly industrial civilization, is fundamentally unsustainable. The solutions proposed to make it more sustainable, i.e. technological advancements, miss the root cause of the problem, i.e. overconsumption by a species to the detriment of all life forms on Earth. (more…)

Chris Hedges: Cancel Culture, Where Liberalism Goes to Die

Chris Hedges: Cancel Culture, Where Liberalism Goes to Die

Editor’s note: Leftists often see authoritarianism as a hallmark of conservative, right-wing, and fascist governments and organizations. But throughout history, there is an equally troubling trend of left-wing authoritarianism.

Today, this strain of politics is ascendant in the United States, where the use of censorship and violence to curtail political speech has become increasingly accepted and mainstream both among Democratic-party ideologues, media and tech elites, and the professional managerial class, and among college-educated “radical” leftists.

In today’s piece, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Chris Hedges discusses the normalization of “cancel culture” as a sign of increasing corporate control and the fading of liberal values that protected basic political expression. For a decade, Deep Green Resistance has been targeted by what Hedges describes as the “boutique activism of a liberal class that lacks the courage and the organizational skills to challenge the actual centers of power.” The footsoldiers of cancel culture are, Hedges writes, “the useful idiots of corporate power and the emerging police state.”

“Cancel culture is not the road to reform,” he concludes. “It is the road to tyranny.”

Elites and their courtiers who trumpet their moral superiority by damning and silencing those who do not linguistically conform to politically correct speech are the new Jacobins.

By Chris Hedges / ScheerPost

The Rev. Will Campbell was forced out of his position as director of religious life at the University of Mississippi in 1956 because of his calls for integration.  He escorted Black children through a hostile mob in 1957 to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School.  He was the only white person that was invited to be part of the group that founded Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  He helped integrate Nashville’s lunch counters and organize the Freedom Rides.

But Campbell was also, despite a slew of death threats he received from white segregationists, an unofficial chaplain to the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.  He denounced and publicly fought the Klan’s racism, acts of terror and violence and marched with Black civil rights protestors in his native Mississippi, but he steadfastly refused to “cancel” white racists out of his life.  He refused to demonize them as less than human.  He insisted that this form of racism, while evil, was not as insidious as a capitalist system that perpetuated the economic misery and instability that pushed whites into the ranks of violent, racist organizations.

“During the civil rights movement, when we were developing strategies, someone usually said, ‘Call Will Campbell. Check with Will,’” Rep. John Lewis wrote in the introduction to the new edition of Campbell’s memoir “Brother to a Dragonfly,” one of the most important books I read as a seminarian. “Will knew that the tragedy of Southern history had fallen on our opponents as well as our allies … on George Wallace and Bull Connor as well as Rosa Parks and Fred Shuttlesworth.  He saw that it had created the Ku Klux Klan as well as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. That insight led Will to see racial healing and equity, pursued through courage, love, and faith as the path to spiritual liberation for all.”

Jimmy Carter wrote of Campbell that he “tore down the walls that separated white and black Southerners.”  And because the Black Panther organizer Fred Hampton was doing the same thing in Chicago, the FBI — which, along with the CIA, is the de facto ally of the liberal elites in their war against Trump and his supporters — assassinated him.

When the town Campbell lived in decided the Klan should not be permitted to have a float in the Fourth of July parade Campbell did not object, as long as the gas and electric company was also barred. It was not only white racists that inflicted suffering on the innocent and the vulnerable, but institutions that place the sanctity of profit before human life.

“People can’t pay their gas and electric bills, the heat gets turned off and they freeze and sometimes die, especially if they are elderly,” he said.  “This, too, is an act of terrorism.”

“Theirs you could see and deal with, and if they broke the law, you could punish them,” he said of the Klan. “But the larger culture that was, and still is, racist to the core is much more difficult to deal with and has a more sinister influence.”

Campbell would have reminded us that the demonization of the Trump supporters who stormed the capital is a terrible mistake.  He would have reminded us that racial injustice will only be solved with economic justice. He would have called on us to reach out to those who do not think like us, do not speak like us, are ridiculed by polite society, but who suffer the same economic marginalization. He knew that the disparities of wealth, loss of status and hope for the future, coupled with prolonged social dislocation, generated the poisoned solidarity that give rise to groups such as the Klan or the Proud Boys.

We cannot heal wounds we refuse to acknowledge.

The Washington Post, which analyzed the public records of 125 defendants charged with taking part in the storming of the Capital on January 6, found that “nearly 60 percent of the people facing charges related to the Capitol riot showed signs of prior money troubles, including bankruptcies, notices of eviction or foreclosure, bad debts, or unpaid taxes over the past two decades.”

“The group’s bankruptcy rate — 18 percent — was nearly twice as high as that of the American public,” the Post found. “A quarter of them had been sued for money owed to a creditor. And 1 in 5 of them faced losing their home at one point, according to court filings.”

“A California man filed for bankruptcy one week before allegedly joining the attack, according to public records,” the paper reported. “A Texas man was charged with entering the Capitol one month after his company was slapped with a nearly $2,000 state tax lien. Several young people charged in the attack came from families with histories of financial duress.”

We must acknowledge the tragedy of these lives, while at the same time condemning racism, hate and the lust for violence.  We must grasp that our most perfidious enemy is not someone who is politically incorrect, even racist, but the corporations and a failed political and judicial system that callously sacrifices people, as well as the planet, on the altar of profit.

Like Campbell, much of my own family comes from the rural working class, many espousing prejudices my father, a Presbyterian minister, regularly condemned from the pulpit. Through a combination of luck and scholarships to elite schools, I got out. They never did. My grandfather, intellectually gifted, was forced to drop out of high school his senior year when his sister’s husband died. He had to work the farm to feed her children. If you are poor in America, you rarely get more than one chance. And many do not get one. He lost his.

The towns in Maine where my relatives come from have been devastated by the closures of mills and factories. There is little meaningful work. There is a smoldering anger caused by legitimate feelings of betrayal and entrapment. They live, like most working class Americans, lives of quiet desperation. This anger is often expressed in negative and destructive ways. But I have no right to dismiss them as irredeemable.

To understand is not to condone.  But if the ruling elites, and their courtiers masquerading as journalists, continue to gleefully erase these people from the media landscape, to attack them as less than human, or as Hillary Clinton called them “deplorables,” while at the same time refusing to address the grotesque social inequality that has left them vulnerable and afraid, it will fuel ever greater levels of extremism and ever greater levels of state repression and censorship.

The cancel culture, a witch hunt by self-appointed moral arbiters of speech, has become the boutique activism of a liberal class that lacks the courage and the organizational skills to challenge the actual centers of power — the military-industrial complex, lethal militarized police, the prison system, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the intelligence agencies that make us the most spied upon, watched, photographed and monitored population in human history, the fossil fuel industry, and a political and economic system captured by oligarchic power.

It is much easier to turn from these overwhelming battles to take down hapless figures who make verbal gaffes, those who fail to speak in the approved language or embrace the approved attitudes of the liberal elites. These purity tests have reached absurd and self-defeating levels, including the inquisitional bloodlust by 150 staff members of The New York Times demanding that management, which had already investigated and dealt with what at most was poor judgment made by the veteran reporter Don McNeil when he repeated a racist slur in a discussion about race, force him out of the paper, which management reluctantly did.

Too often the targets of the cancel culture are radicals, such as the feminists who run the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter and who do not admit trans people because most of the girls and women in the shelter have been physically assaulted and traumatized by those with male bodies.  None of the critics of these feminists spend ten or twelve hours a day in a shelter taking care of abused girls and women, many of whom were prostituted as children, but fire off screeds to attack them and cut their funding. The cancel culture, as the Canadian feminist Lee Lakeman says, is “the weaponization of ignorance.”

The cancel culture was pioneered by the red baiting of the capitalist elites and their shock troops in agencies such as the FBI to break, often through violence, radical movements and labor unions.  Tens of thousands of people, in the name of anti-communism, were cancelled out of the culture. The well-financed Israel lobby is a master of the cancel culture, shutting down critics of the Israeli apartheid state and those of us who support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement as anti-Semites.  The cancel culture fueled the persecution of Julian Assange, the censorship of WikiLeaks and the Silicon Valley algorithms that steer readers away from content, including my content, critical of imperial and corporate power.

In the end, this bullying will be used by social media platforms, which are integrated into the state security and surveillance organs, not to promote, as its supporters argue, civility, but ruthlessly silence dissidents, intellectuals, artists and independent journalism.  Once you control what people say you control what they think.

This cancel culture is embraced by corporate media platforms where, as Glenn Greenwald writes, “teams of journalists at three of the most influential corporate media outlets — CNN’s ‘media reporters’ (Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy), NBC’s ‘disinformation space unit’ (Ben Collins and Brandy Zadrozny), and the tech reporters of The New York Times (Mike Isaac, Kevin Roose, Sheera Frenkel) — devote the bulk of their ‘journalism’ to searching for online spaces where they believe speech and conduct rules are being violated, flagging them, and then pleading that punitive action be taken (banning, censorship, content regulation, after-school detention).”

Corporations know these moral purity tests are, for us, self-defeating. They know that by making the cancel culture legitimate — and for this reason I opposed locking Donald Trump out of his Twitter and other social media accounts — they can employ it to silence those who attack and expose the structures of corporate power and imperial crimes. The campaigns of moral absolutism widen the divides between liberals and the white working class, divisions that are crucial to maintaining the power of the corporate elites. The cancel culture is the fodder for the riveting and entertaining culture wars. It turns anti-politics into politics.  Most importantly, the cancel culture deflects attention from the far more egregious institutionalized abuses of power.  It is this smug, self-righteousness crusade that makes the liberal class so odious.

Doug Marlette, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist who created the comic strip “Kudzu,” which featured a Campbell-inspired character called Rev. Will B. Dunn, brought Campbell to speak at Harvard when I was there.  Campbell’s message was met with a mixture of bewilderment and open hostility, which was fine with me as it meant the room swiftly emptied and the rest of the night Marlette, Campbell and I sat up late drinking whiskey and eating bologna sandwiches.  Marlette was as iconoclastic and acerbically funny as Campbell. His cartoons, including one that showed Jesus on Good Friday carrying an electric chair instead of a cross and another that portrayed Jerry Falwell as the serpent in the Garden of Eden, provoked howls of protest from irate readers.

Campbell’s memoir, “Brother to a Dragonfly,” is not only beautifully written — Campbell was a close friend of Walker Percy, whose novels I also consumed — but filled with a humility and wisdom that liberals, who should spend less time in the self-referential rabbit hole of social media, have lost. He describes America, which routinely employs murder, torture, threats, blackmail and intimidation to crush all those who oppose it at home and abroad, as “a nation of Klansmen.” He refused to draw a moral line between the American empire, which many liberals defend, and the disenfranchised and angry whites that flock to racist groups such as the Klan or, years later, would support Trump. The architects of empire and the ruling capitalists who exploited workers, stymied democracy, orchestrated state repression, hoarded obscene levels of wealth and waged endless war were, he knew, the real enemy.

Campbell remembers watching a documentary by CBS called “The Ku Klux Klan: An Invisible Empire,” after which he was invited to address the audience. The film showed the murder of the three civil rights workers in Mississippi, the castration of Judge Aaron in Alabama, and the deaths of the four young girls in the Birmingham Sunday school bombing.  When the film showed a Klan recruit pivoting right when the drill master shouted, “Left face,” the audience erupted in “cheers, jeers, catcalls and guffaws.” Campbell writes that he “felt a sickening in my stomach.”

Those viewing the film were a group convened by the National Student Association and included New Left radicals of the sixties, representing Students for a Democratic Society, the Port Huron group, young white men and women who had led protests at campuses across the country, burned down buildings, coined the term “pigs” to refer to police. Many were from affluent families.

“They were students in or recent graduates of rich and leading colleges and universities,” he writes of the audience. “They were mean and tough but somehow, I sensed that there wasn’t a radical in the bunch.  For if they were radical how could they laugh at a poor ignorant farmer who didn’t know his left hand from his right? If they had been radical they would have been weeping, asking what had produced him. And if they had been radical they would not have been sitting, soaking up a film produced for their edification and enjoyment by the Establishment of the establishment — CBS.”

Campbell, who was asked to address the group following the film, said: “My name is Will Campbell. I’m a Baptist preacher. I’m a native of Mississippi. And I’m pro-Klansman because I’m pro-human being.”

Pandemonium erupted in the hall.  He was shouted down as a “fascist pig” and a “Mississippi redneck.”  Most walked out.

“Just four words uttered — ‘pro-Klansman Mississippi Baptist preacher,’ coupled with one visual image, white, had turned them into everything they thought the Ku Klux Klan to be — hostile, frustrated, angry, violent and irrational,” he writes. “And I was never able to explain to them that pro-Klansman is not the same as pro-Klan. That the former has to do with a person, the other with an ideology.”

“The same social forces which produced the Klan’s violence also produced the violence in Watts, Rochester and Harlem, Cleveland, Chicago, Houston, Nashville, Atlanta and Dayton, because they are all pieces of the same garment — social isolation, deprivation, economic conditions, rejections, working mothers, poor schools, bad diets, and all the rest,” Campbell writes.

And these social forces produced the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests after the police murder of George Floyd and the storming of the Capitol by an enraged mob.

Campbell never asked any of the members of the Klan he knew to leave the organization for the same reason he never asked liberals to leave “the respectable and fashionable organizations or institutions of which they were a part and party, all of which, I was learning, were more truly racist than their Klan.”

This radical love was the core of Dr. Martin Luther King’s message. This love informed King’s steadfast nonviolence.  It led him to denounce the Vietnam War and condemn the US government as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” And it saw him assassinated in Memphis when he was supporting a strike by sanitation workers for economic justice.

Campbell lived by his oft-quoted creed, “If you’re gonna love one, you’ve got to love ‘em all.”  Like King, he  believed in the redemptive and transformative power of forgiveness.

The ruling elites and the courtiers who trumpet their moral superiority by damning and silencing those who do not linguistically conform to politically correct speech are the new Jacobins. They wallow in a sanctimonious arrogance, one made possible by their privilege, which masks their subservience to corporate power and their amorality. They do not battle social and economic injustice. They silence, with the enthusiastic assistance of the digital platforms in Silicon Valley, those who are crushed and deformed by systems of oppression and those who lack their finely developed politesse and deference to linguistic fashion. They are the useful idiots of corporate power and the emerging police state. Cancel culture is not the road to reform. It is the road to tyranny.

[Chris Hedges writes a regular original column for ScheerPost. Click here to sign upfor email alerts.]

Photo: quote from Mario Savio, free-speech movement.
How Corrupt Governments Use The Law to Punish Environmentalists

How Corrupt Governments Use The Law to Punish Environmentalists

Editor’s note: Monday’s article covered the murder of environmentalists—at least 207 were killed last year. These killings are the extreme end of a spectrum of violence and repression used against environmentalists and land defenders. Another weapon on that spectrum is draconian laws that prioritize business interests over communities and the natural world.

These laws are common globally. Here in the United States, for example, corporations have more rights than human beings and protests are increasingly criminalized. Today’s story comes from Indonesia, where a new mining law is being used to punish activists. These measures are a predictable corporate/government response to grassroots resistance movements, and they must be fought.

It’s also noteworthy that these laws may unintentionally lead to an increase in underground action and eco-sabotage, as clandestine action may be both a safer and a more effective option when civil dissent is outlawed.

By / Mongabay

  •  Activists in Indonesia have highlighted what they say is an increase in arrests of people protesting against mining activity since the passage of a controversial mining law in 2020.
  • They’ve singled out the law’s Article 162 as “a devious policy” that’s meant to quash all opposition to mining activity, even at the expense of communities and the environment.
  • Of the 53 people subjected to criminal charges for opposing mining companies in 2021, at least 10 were charged with violating Article 162, according to one group.
  • Groups have filed a legal challenge against the law, seeking to strike down Article 162 and eight other contentious provisions on constitutional grounds.

JAKARTA — In the nearly two years since Indonesian lawmakers passed a controversial mining law, the legislation has increasingly been used by police to arrest villagers and local activists opposed to mining operations on their lands.

Human rights activists, including the national rights commission, Komnas HAM, have criticized the law, an amendment to an old mining law, for its provisions that are widely seen as undermining the rights of local communities for the benefit of mining companies.

“After the revision of the mining law [in May 2020], Article 162 has often been used to silence people’s fights against mining operations,” Melky Nahar, campaign head for watchdog group Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), told Mongabay, referring to the most contentious provision in the new law.

Article 162 states that “anyone who hinders or disturbs mining activities by permit holders who have met the requirements … may be punished with a maximum prison term of one year and maximum fines of 100 million rupiah [$7,000].”

Of the 53 people subjected to criminal charges for opposing mining companies in 2021, at least 10 were charged with violating Article 162, according to Satrio Manggala, environmental policy manager at the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi).

“So these people protested [against mining activity], but in their protests, they’re perceived as hindering and disturbing mining activity,” he said at a recent online press conference.

Hairansyah, a commissioner with the government-funded Komnas HAM, called the article “a major setback” as it poses “a serious threat to human rights defenders.” He said the article goes against the 2009 law on environmental protection, which states that no criminal charges may be brought against anyone for campaigning for their right to a clean environment. Activists warn that Article 162 adds to a growing list of measures encouraging the prosecution of dissent against extractive and other environmentally harmful activities.

Matras beach in Bangka Belitung province, Indonesia. Image courtesy of Vebra/Wikimedia Commons.

‘To cripple people’s fight’

Prosecutions under these measures are known as SLAPP, or strategic lawsuits against public participation, and in the case of the mining law’s Article 162, they have proliferated in the past two years.

In December 2020, state-owned tin miner PT Timah pressed charges against 12 residents of the fishing village of Matras, on the island of Bangka off Sumatra, after they boarded one of its vessels in a protest. The company said the villagers had disrupted its operations, in violation of Article 162.

The villagers justified their actions as an act of protest against the company’s mining activities that they said had disrupted their livelihoods, reducing their daily fish catches by nearly 90%.

In November 2021, residents of Tuntung village on the island of Sulawesi blocked the road leading to a nickel mine run by PT Koninis Fajar Mineral (KFM), also in protest against the environmental impact of the company’s activities. They saidthe water in their village had been polluted by KFM’s operations.

Following the protest, local police summoned and questioned at least 13 of the protesters under the pretext of Article 162 violations.

On Dec. 29, some of the villagers reported the police to the local office of Komnas HAM, saying they felt they were being criminalized under Article 162. On Jan. 4 this year, the rights commission sent a letter to the police asking them to stop any legal proceedings against the villagers.

In the letter, Komnas HAM called Article 162 a contentious tool for silencing the voices of people defending their rights against mining activities, and pointed out that the public’s rights to gather and express their opinions are guaranteed under the Constitution and the 1999 law on human rights.

Jatam’s Melky said there was no question that the use of Article 162 by the police was aimed at stifling grassroots opposition. “This increasing trend of criminalization is not an effort to uphold the law, but to cripple people’s fight [against mining],” he said.

Villagers of Pasar Seluma in southern Sumatra, Indonesia, evicted from their protest camp by the police. In December 2021, the villagers set up an encampment in the mining area of PT Faminglevto Bakti Abadi (FBA), an iron ore miner, to protest against the company. Image courtesy of Walhi Bengkulu.

‘A devious policy’

The most recent case involving the use of Article 162 was the arrest of 10 people, including villagers and  activists, in Pasar Seluma village in southern Sumatra.

On Dec. 23, the protesters set up an encampment in the mining area of PT Faminglevto Bakti Abadi (FBA), an iron ore miner that they say never obtained their permission to operate in their area, and whose activities since 2010 have been mired in irregularities.

On Dec. 27, police bulldozed the protesters’ tents and arrested them, including Ayu Nevi Anggraeni, a villager who said they were dragged out of their tents like animals.

“We and our children were forcibly dragged. The police didn’t care for us,” she said at an online press conference. “We’re being treated like a thief or an animal even though we did nothing wrong. We didn’t provoke [anyone]. From deep within our heart, we want the mine to be closed.”

Another villager, who did not give her name, said she felt the same.

“We’re just asking for justice,” she said. “When we were being kicked out of the protest site, some police officers called us stupid. Why? We just want to defend our territory.”

The Pasar Seluma police chief, Darmawan Dwiharyanto, told local media that the forced eviction was a last resort after previous attempts to persuade the villagers to leave the site had failed.

Saman Lating, a lawyer representing the villagers, said police investigators had told him the villagers were arrested for disrupting FBA’s activities — that is, for violating Article 162.

“We know that this article is a powerful one in the mining law used by the powers that be,” he said at the online press conference. “This article is meant to perpetuate all mining activities in Indonesia.”

But Saman questioned the use of Article 162 in this case, given that it’s ostensibly meant to protect businesses that have the proper permits. This doesn’t appear to be the case for FBA, he said.

The company is allegedly operating without having conducted an environmental impact assessment, known locally as an Amdal, or obtaining an environmental permit. It has also allegedly failed to pay its post-mining reclamation deposit to the state as of 2018. The deposit, which is required of all miners, is meant to ensure that funds are available for rehabilitating the site once mining operations have ended.

FBA was also included on a list of companies whose mining permits were revoked by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources in 2016. Rere Christanto, manager of the mining division at Walhi, said FBA had also violated at least 15 regulations by operating in coastal and protected areas.

Usin Abdisyah Putra Sembiring, a provincial councilor in Bengkulu, where Pasar Seluma is located, said FBA isn’t fit to operate because it hasn’t fulfilled all of its obligations. In addition to allegedly not having an Amdal and an environmental permit, he said, the company has never reported its environmental monitoring and management plan to the local environmental agency.

Mongabay has reached out to the environmental agency in Bengkulu to confirm the allegations but hasn’t received a response.

If all these allegations are true, said Saman the lawyer, then the police had no grounds for evicting and arresting the villagers protesting against FBA’s presence. By doing so, he said, “the law enforcers are working to justify the mistakes of the company.”

Walhi’s Rere said the case in Pasar Seluma is evidence of how the mining law has become a serious threat to people’s rights.

“What’s happening in Pasar Seluma further convinces us that the mining law is a devious policy used to eradicate people’s participation [in fighting for their rights],” he said.

Villagers of Pasar Seluma in southern Sumatra, Indonesia, evicted from their protest camp by the police. In December 2021, the villagers set up an encampment in the mining area of PT Faminglevto Bakti Abadi (FBA), an iron ore miner, to protest against the company. Image courtesy of Walhi Bengkulu.

Constitutional challenge

Activists from Walhi and from mining watchdog Jatam’s office in East Kalimantan province in June last year filed a constitutional challenge against the mining law. The challenge, known as a judicial review, seeks to strike down nine articles from the law on constitutional grounds, including Article 162.

In a hearing at the Constitutional Court on Jan. 5, Ridwan Jamaludin, the director-general of minerals and coal at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, said the article isn’t aimed at silencing protesters, but at providing legal certainty for investors.

It’s meant, he said, “to protect them from irresponsible people in a government effort to build a healthy climate for investment.”

Jatam’s Melky said this reasoning shows how the government is siding with companies instead of the people.

“His statement shows that the government is not working to guarantee people’s safety and [the rights to] their land, but just to make sure that the interests of companies are guaranteed without hurdles,” he said.

Melky added that during the legislative process to pass the mining bill into law, there was no public participation allowed. This, he said, explains the inclusion of provisions like Article 162.

“The problem is that nearly all mining policies in Indonesia [are issued] without involving the public as the rightful owners of land [in the country],” he said. “All [deliberation] is done behind closed doors.”

Walhi’s Satrio said this isn’t the first time Article 162 has been challenged in court.

The previous mining law also contained the same article, which critics challenged three times at the Constitutional Court. The court eventually ruled that the restrictions prescribed in the article could only be applied to people who have sold their lands to mining companies, and not to all individuals who oppose mining operations, Satrio said.

But when lawmakers passed the amended law in 2020, they reinstated the same old article that the court had ruled unconstitutional, and not the updated version from the court.

“We initially thought that when the mining law was amended in 2020, the article would disappear, or at least the version from the Constitutional Court will be used,” Satrio said. “However, the article reappeared in its complete form, which led to many victims [of criminalization] in 2021.”


Chris Hedges: The Human Cost of War

Chris Hedges: The Human Cost of War

Dividing the world into worthy and unworthy victims is a tactic used to justify our crimes and demonize our enemies. Conflicts will not be solved until all nations abide by international law and all victims are deemed worthy.