Tiger skin, fetuses seized in Indonesia’s wildlife trafficking raid

Indonesian authorities detained five people in Pelalawan district of Riau province for allegedly poaching and trading body parts of rare Sumatran tigers, an official said Sunday.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry’s law enforcement and forest protection director, Sustyo Iriono, said officials from the ministry and the police seized four tiger fetuses from three suspects, including a husband and wife, during a raid on Saturday morning.

“The fetuses were stored in a plastic jar. Based on the information from those arrested, the authorities were able to arrest two more suspects and seized the skin of an adult tiger,” Iriono said.

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The skin of an adult tiger found during a raid on wildlife traffickers in Pelalawan, Riau province. Photo: Photo: Balai Pengamanan dan Penegakan Hukum Lingkungan Hidup dan Kehutanan wilayah Sumatra

The suspects could face up to five years in prison and a fine of 100 million rupiahs according to articles in the 1990 natural resources conservation law.

The Sumatran tiger is the last of Indonesia’s three subspecies of tigers that still exists and is listed as a critically endangered species. The big cat has been pushed to the brink of extinction due to its natural habitat rapidly perishing as a result of massive deforestation.

According to data from the forestry ministry, there are roughly 600 Sumatran tigers now living in the species’ natural habitat, but human encroachment on the protected forest that the tigers inhabit has caused frequent human-tiger conflict.

A farmer was found dismembered last week after a suspected attack by a Sumatran tiger in his coffee field in South Sumatra province. Another farmer was injured.

It was the second fatal tiger attack in the province in less than a month. A camper from Musi Banyuasin was injured in a tiger attack while he was camping in Pagaralam’s Gunung Dempo in November.

 

Indonesia taps into Muslim tourist market with Shariah hotels

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Shariah-based Hotel Sofyan in Central Jakarta. Photo: Sofyan Hotel

With a rising awareness to promote Muslim-friendly travel, the widespread adoption of Shariah-based accommodation is not always successfully put into practice, as Octine Riyantini realized during one of her stays at a hotel that claimed to be Shariah-compliant.

Riyantini has stayed in two Shariah-based hotels in Indonesia and had a good experience with the first one, where she found that hotel staff always greeted guests with the Islamic greeting, had call of prayers blasted from a speaker and provided prayer amenities as well as a Qibla sign in each room.

“The ambiance was very much Islamic and the hotel itself was clean and well-maintained,” she said.

She had a different experience with the second one, despite the Shariah label that goes with the hotel’s name in an online hotel reservation website.

Although they provided a prayer room on each floor, Riyantini said it seemed like it was hastily prepared and a bit spooky, so she and her family chose to pray in their room. Moreover, the hotel was not properly maintained.

“Maybe they consider their hotel to be Shariah-compliant just because they provide a prayer room on each floor and a Qibla sign in the room, yet the overall ambiance hardly felt like it was Muslim-friendly,” she said.

“I learned that not all hotels that claimed to be Shariah-based are really compliant to the value. If we have to stay in such a hotel another time, we will have to consider which hotel chain it is associated with,” she said.

Muslim-friendly travel and tourism in Indonesia continues to rise, with Indonesia named as the number one destination, out of 130 countries, for halal tourism in the world by the Global Muslim Travel Index 2019.

Service providers have been quick to tap into the growing market, despite the controversy and misconceptions about halal tourism in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

According to a survey conducted by accommodation network operator Airy, 60 percent of Indonesian travelers think that it is important to have Shariah-based accommodation. The figure was consistent with data from the Alvara Research Center, which showed that 64 percent of Indonesian millennials travel and go on holiday at least once a year, providing a market of about 26 million holiday-hunting Muslim millennials.

Responding to the market demand, Airy in 2016 began offering a segment called Airy Syariah or a Shariah-based accommodation network.

“Our Airy Syariah properties offer Muslim-friendly accommodation so that guests can stay comfortably and worry-free. The market response has been good and demand for Shariah-based accommodation continues to rise every year. Our occupancy rate so far stands at 40 percent to 70 percent,” Airy vice president for marketing, Ika Paramita, said.

Paramita said Airy cooperates with more than 400 Muslim-friendly properties in some 50 cities across Indonesia and it has been growing at a triple-digit rate year-on-year.

“The food and drinks in our properties are halal-certified, and we provide Muslim-friendly amenities. Guests can immediately experience their stay in our Shariah-based properties, where hotel staff uniforms and attitudes conform to Islamic values. Moreover, we validate the marriage status when a couple is checking in,” Paramita said.

Shariah-compliant accommodation is not new in Indonesia. The Sofyan Hotel chain in Jakarta has implemented the concept in its two properties since 1992 by removing nightclubs, bars and alcoholic drinks from its facilities.

But the concept does not always appeal to all Muslims in Indonesia. University lecturer Ratna Djumala said she prefers to stay in a conventional hotel to show her children about meeting people of various backgrounds.

“I want to show my children about diversity and tolerance, especially this coming December when hotels are adorned with Christmas decorations. I want my kids to experience the ambiance, too. A family-friendly hotel doesn’t always have to be a Shariah-based one. What’s important for me is the food has to be halal,” she said.

Muslim-friendly travel was valued at $189 billion in 2018 and is estimated to reach $274 billion by 2024, according to the State of Global Islamic Economy Report 2019.

The story was first published in Arab News

Jakarta residents ponder future as city sinks

Irma Susanti lives a few metres away from a concrete wall that barely keeps seawater from inundating her slum neighbourhood in the north of the Indonesian capital.

A few years ago, authorities raised the wall by nearly a metre, to 2.3 metres high. But even that is sometimes not enough to prevent the dark brown smelly water from entering her house during torrential rain.

On the other side of the wall, the water is covered in a thick carpet of rubbish: tyres, flip-flops, used plastic cups, plastic bags and condoms.

Irma sits on a bench in the scorching sun, her 1-year-old daughter in her arms and an older woman next to her.

“We are always on the lookout for flooding, because the wall can’t always keep the water out,” the 30-year-old mother of two says.

The flooding is worst in January and February, she says, when rain is frequent or when the tide is high.

“My husband works here as a fisherman, so we have no choice but to stay,” Irma says.

No other city in the world is sinking faster than Jakarta. Twenty per cent of the territory is below sea level, and that figure is set to nearly double by 2050, according to researchers at the Bandung Institute of Technology.

The situation is most dire in Jakarta’s northern neighbourhoods, which researchers say will be nearly completely flooded in three decades.

That’s the case at the Wall Adhuna mosque in the harbour district, about 10 minutes by foot from Irma’s neighbourhood. Built during the Dutch era as a small mosque for Muslim sailors, it was abandoned in 2005 after it was flooded, and a wall was built to separate it from dry land. The mosque now stands like a monument to a flood apocalypse, its roof half-collapsed and its walls covered with mould.

Jakarta was founded in 1527 by the sultan of the Sunda Kingdom, who conquered the area from the Portuguese and named it Jayakarta, or Great Victory.

Dutch colonial rulers later renamed the city Batavia as they set out to create a tropical Amsterdam with a dense network of streets and canals. Today, it bears little resemblance to the Dutch capital, with hundreds of thousands of cars idling in hours-long traffic jams, few pedestrians and only a handful of green spaces.

Over 30 million people live in Jakarta and its larger metropolitan area today. Nearly all of the 13 rivers that criss-cross Jakarta are dirty and foul-smelling. Apartment buildings now tower where mangrove forests once stood. In nearby landfills, plastic is burned.

But why is Jakarta sinking? Sea levels are rising, and serious city planning has been absent for a long time. The city is mostly paved with asphalt and concrete, which means that water has nowhere to go during heavy rainfall. But Jakarta’s sinking has less to do with what happens above ground than what happens below.

Around half of Jakarta’s households are connected to the privatized piped water network, but others are forced to pump their water out of the ground by hand or with electric pumps. The continuous extraction of groundwater means that the land above it sinks.

“It’s like a quiet, very slow murder,” says urban planner Nirwono Joga, who advises the government of President Joko Widodo. “You do not even see the bottom sinking in most neighbourhoods. This happens so slowly that most of them are not aware of it.”

Large hotels, factories and shopping malls also have their own pump systems. “The problems are man-made and not nature’s,” Nirwono says.

For households that are neither connected to the water supply system nor able to pump, clean water has to be delivered by truck. This is the case for Irma’s family, whose two blue 250-litre tanks are located directly on the protective sea wall. Irma cooks, washes and bathes using the water. One hundred litres cost about one dollar – not an insignificant sum for Irma or her neighbours.

“None of us has a pump,” she says. “The water here is disgusting. Filters don’t help either.”

Jakarta’s sinking is visible in other areas. In the North Jakarta subdistrict of Penjaringan, houses that used to be at ground level are now about one metre lower. Residents who used to look down on the street from their homes now live below it.

“The last time I had a flood, water as high as 20 centimetres inundated the kitchen,” says Abdul Mukti, a Penjaringan resident.

Water is seeping from the ground in front of the 62-year-old’s salmon-coloured house, but he says has no intention of moving elsewhere and does not believe that the area could sink further.

“I’m not afraid,” he says. “Flooding is only a few days a year. The rest of the year I can live without problems.”

In the nearby neighbourhood of Akuarium, dozens of houses were demolished in 2016 because of flooding, but some residents have stayed put, making do with life in makeshift shelters.

The continual sinking is not for a lack of bold ideas among city leaders. After a major flood in 2007, the city commissioned a Dutch company to build a 57-kilometre seawall several kilometres offshore, and artificial islands called Kita (We), Maju (Progress) and Bersama (Together) have been built. But the houses built there are just as empty as the streets, and the island project has been dogged by corruption allegations.

The latest plan to address Jakarta’s sinking problem is perhaps the most ambitious yet: to build a whole new capital outside Java, some 1,200 kilometres from Jakarta.

Under the proposed plan, the new capital will be built in the jungles of Borneo island, somewhere halfway between the cities of Balikpapan and Samarinda.

The cost of the move to the new unnamed capital is estimated at more than 30 billion dollars. The first officials are scheduled to move into their new offices as early as 2024 – the last year of the president’s final term in office. Some Indonesians joke that the new capital should be named Jokograd, after the president.

Despite the national efforts, hardly anyone in the poor neighbourhoods along the protective walls is perturbed by the prospects of sinking.

“I know it costs a lot of money,” Irma says. “But if the government think it’s for the best, I have no problems. We are only small people.”

Attorney General’s Office says gay people need not apply

The Indonesian Attorney General’s Office said on Thursday it would not hire gay or transgender people to work at the institution.

“We want to hire only normal, proper people,” a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, Mukri, told reporters.

“We don’t want unusual things,” said Mukri.

A listing for jobs posted on the office’s website, including prosecutor, doctor and computer expert, says applicants “must not be mentally disabled, including deviant sexual-orientation and behaviour (transgender).”

Activists condemned the requirement as a rights violation and noted that the World Health Organization (WHO) has removed homosexuality from its list of mental illness.

“Rejecting applicants on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity is a blatant form of discrimination,” said Ricky Gunawan, director of the Community Legal Aid Institute.

Homosexuality is not a crime in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, except in Aceh province where sharia – strict Islamic law – is in force.

But the LGBT community has been under increased pressure in recent years as growing advocacy for sexual minorities has been met with homophobic rhetoric from officials and conservative Muslim groups.

In recent years, police have occasionally raided places frequented by gay people and briefly detained them on suspicion of engaging in prostitution and pornographic acts.

Last year, the city of Pariaman in the devoutly Muslim province of West Sumatra passed a by-law that imposes a fine of 70 dollars for “homosexual and transgender activities.”

Poor tourists are unwelcome in NTT, Governor Says

The governor of an Indonesian province that is home to the famed Komodo dragon said poor tourists are not welcome there, local media reported on Friday.

East Nusa Tenggara Governor Victor Laiskodat said his province was on the list of Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2020 and therefore should be a premium destination.

“Tourists who come here must be rich,” Laiskodat was quoted by the Kompas newspaper as saying Thursday. “Those who are poor may not come … we have many people like that, so we don’t want to see more of them.”

East Nusa Tenggara is one of the poorest provinces in Indonesia.

Laiskodat has proposed that people who want access to Komodo island, home to the giant lizard, should be charged a hefty entrance fee. Visitors are currently charged 150,000 rupiah (10 dollars) for access to the park.

The government this year dropped a plan to close the island for a year in 2020 as part of conservation efforts and instead decided to turn it into a premium tourism destination.

Officials said visitors who do not want to pay the entrance fee can visit nearby Rinca island, where smaller Komodo dragons live.

Komodo National Park, home to more than 5,000 Komodo dragons, is listed by National Geographic as one of the world’s top 10 destinations. It receives more than 10,000 visitors per month.

Push for all things halal divide opinion in Indonesia

After an official suggested that the Lake Toba area on Indonesia’s Sumatra island could be turned into a halal tourism destination, activist Togu Simorangkir came up with the idea of holding a pork festival as an act of resistance.

The event from October 25-26 involved pork cooking and pig catching competitions and was attended by 300,000 people from all over the country, according to Simorangkir.

“It was a big success even though it was just a spontaneous response against making North Sumatra a halal destination,” says Simorangkir, a British-educated activist who founded Alusi Tao Toba, a foundation dedicated to improving the communities around Lake Toba.

“The festival is not about religion, but about maximizing local tourism potential,” he says, adding that most people in the area make a living as farmers.

Muslims are forbidden from eating pork under Islamic rules because the meat is considered unclean.

The Indonesian government established a new halal certification agency under the Ministry of Religious Affairs in 2017. Since then, everything from refrigerators and microwaves to cat food can be certified as halal, or religiously permissible.

Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, but is also home to several other religions. About 63 per cent of North Sumatra’s 15 million people are Muslim, but members of the indigenous Batak tribe, to which Simorangkir belongs, are mainly Christian.

Simorangkir says the idea of halal tourism in North Sumatra is divisive.

“I think there’s no need to divide people based on religion,” he says. “Here there are many mosques and people from all over the world come.”

“If they want tourism to thrive here, they should crack down on companies that destroy the environment,” he adds.

Simorangkir says the pork festival was initially opposed by local leaders and tour operators because of fears it would offend Muslims and hurt tourism.

“The word ‘pig’ has negative connotations in our society, when in fact it’s just an animal, like cows and buffaloes,” he says.

Critics fear that halal tourism, intended to attract Muslim visitors from wealthy Middle Eastern countries and all over the world, could mean a ban on alcohol, separate facilities for men and women and other restrictions.

North Sumatra Governor Edy Rahmayadi has denied suggestions he wants to turn the Lake Toba area into a sharia-compliant destination.

“It’s a misunderstanding,” he was quoted as saying by Detik.com, adding that he was simply suggesting that infrastructure be improved to serve visitors from Muslim countries such as Malaysia.

“So, when Muslims come to a place, […] there’s halal food,” he said. “Even in Thailand, where Buddhists are the majority, there are halal restaurants.”

The head of the Religious Ministry’s Halal Certification Administering Agency, Sukoso, says food and drinks, cosmetics, drugs and other consumer products will have to be certified halal by 2026 according to a 2014 law.

“As for household goods, it should be determined what materials they are made of,” he says, adding that products made of leather are subject to halal certification to ensure they do not contain materials from pigs.

The country’s first halal certified corrective glasses were launched in early November by PT Atalla Indonesia, according to the state Antara news agency.

“Even though glasses are not yet among products that need to be halal certified, the company has done it. I appreciate the effort,” Industry Ministry official Gati Wibawaningsih said at the launch event.

Japanese consumer electronics maker Sharp last year launched what it described as the first line of halal refrigerators in Indonesia.

The company expects sales in the segment to grow between 10 and 20 per cent with the introduction of halal products.

“We want our customers to have peace of mind when using our products,” Sharp Electronics Indonesia sales general manager Andri Adi Utomo said in a statement.

But some Indonesians have questioned why consumer products needs to be certified halal, with many taking to social media to ait their views.

“Now that there are halal glasses, watching porn will no longer be sinful,” one Twitter user joked.

Talk of introducing halal tourism to cater to Muslim visitors in the popular resort island of Bali, a mainly Hindu enclave of Indonesia, has also faced opposition from locals.

Earlier this year, vice presidential candidate Sandiaga Uno sparked controversy after he said he would promote halal tourism in Bali if he and his presidential running mate Prabowo Subianto were elected.

They were defeated by incumbent President Joko Widodo and his running mate Ma’ruf Amin in the April election.

Bali Governor I Wayan Koster rejected the idea.

“Bali is a cultural tourism destination,” he told local media. “There’s no need for such narrow branding.”

Jerinx, the frontman of popular Bali-based rock band Superman Is Dead, said the concept was irrelevant.

“Bali has always been friendly to Muslims. What the f*** is wrong with you people?” he wrote on Twitter.

Second student dies after anti-government rally turns violent in Sulawesi

 A second student has died after protesters clashed with police on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island during a rally against legislation that critics fear would undermine freedoms and anti-corruption efforts, an official said Friday.

Police fired tear gas to quell rock-throwing protesters who gathered outside the legislative council building in Kendari, the capital of South-east Sulawesi on Thursday. 

One student died of a bullet wound during the violence, authorities said.

“This morning, another student, who was critically injured, died because of bleeding in the head,” said the chief provincial ombudsman, Mastri Susilo.   

This week tens of thousands of students across the country have been holding daily protests, which have often turned violent, against revisions to the criminal code which include the criminalization of sex outside marriage, co-habitation and insulting the president.

The violence in Kendari followed clashes on Tuesday in Jakarta that left more than 260 students and 39 police injured as security personnel and protesters faced each other outside the national parliament building, police said.

The proposed changes to the criminal code would see consensual sex outside of marriage punishable by up to one year in prison, while a couple living together without being married could be jailed for up to six months.

Anyone who insults the president or vice president could be handed a prison term of up to four-and-a-half years. This was decriminalized by the Constitutional Court in 2016 after a legal challenge by citizens.

The protesters also demanded the government revoke recent revisions to a law governing the country’s anti-corruption commission that activists warn could severely threaten the body’s independence.

The protesters also demanded the government revoke recent revisions to a law governing the country’s anti-corruption commission that activists warn could severely threaten the body’s independence.

President Joko Widodo on Thursday sought to reassure the public that he remained committed to democracy. “Don’t you ever doubt my commitment on this,” he told reporters.

He said he was considering issuing a decree in lieu of law to replace the recently passed bill on the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

“We will decide and inform the public soon,” he said. KPK commissioners and activists have criticized Joko for agreeing to the revision, saying that the changes could spell the end of the independent body.

Since it was established in 2002, the KPK has arrested and prosecuted former ministers, governors, central bankers and legislators with a conviction rate of nearly 100 per cent.

The agency’s success has made it one of the most respected institutions in a country where confidence in law enforcement agencies is low.

Earlier this month, the parliament also picked a new board of commissioners for KPK, led by a police general accused of ethic violations when he was an investigator at the commission.

The appointment of the police general, Firli Bahuri, prompted the current board of commissioners to tender their resignation to Joko.

KPK officials said that Firli was dismissed as an investigator last year after he met with two suspects being investigated by the agency.

Since it was established in 2002, the KPK has arrested and prosecuted former ministers, governors, central bankers and legislators with a conviction rate of nearly 100 per cent.

The agency’s success has made it one of the most respected institutions in a country where confidence in law enforcement agencies is low.