Indonesian police foil attempt to smuggle 36 endangered sea turtles

Indonesian authorities have detained seven people for allegedly attempting to smuggle 36 endangered green sea turtles, police said Sunday.

The police in Bali nabbed the smugglers in the waters off Serangan, a small island on the south-eastern coast of the resort island known for its turtle conservation.

The seven were transporting the green sea turtles – one of the world’s largest species of turtle – in an outrigger boat when they were intercepted, said director of Bali water and air police Toni Ariadi Effendi.

“They were going to hand over the green turtles to someone in Serangan,” Effendi said.

The police have taken the turtles to the local nature conservation agency to be kept as evidence while investigating the case and prosecuting the smugglers before they are to be released back into the wild.

A green turtle weighs up to 132 kilograms and is about 80 to 150 centimeters long.

Six out of the world’s seven sea turtles species are found in Indonesia, which is part of the turtles’ migrating route from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and vice versa. They are hunted for their hard upper shells to be made as accessories or preserved as taxidermy.



Killer whales spotted in tropical Indonesian waters

Pods of orcas have appeared in several spots across the tropical waters of Indonesia this year, the environment and forestry ministry said over the weekend.

The ministry said Saturday on its official Twitter account that an orca calf was stranded in the waters off Inobonto of Bolaang Mongondow district in North Sulawesi, and a few killer whales were spotted by a diver who uploaded on his Twitter handle @susenos his clip of the killer whales’ appearance while diving in Biak Numfor, Papua on June 20.

The ministry said the latest sighting of the killer whale in the archipelago was that of the two-meter-long calf on June 24, which was believed to have been separated from its pod.

Indra Exploitasia, the ministry’s biodiversity conservation director, said local conservation officials lured the calf back to high seas after receiving reports from fishermen, and after a clip of locals playing with the calf on the water went viral.

“They monitored the calf until the afternoon to make sure that it did not return to the shore,” she said.

Orcas are classified as a protected species in Indonesia under a 2018 environment and forestry ministry regulation.

According to the ministry’s record, the first sighting of orcas in Indonesian waters this year was on April 4 in the waters off Anambas Island in the Natuna Sea, while another pod was also sighted on April 30 in the waters of East Flores regency in East Nusa Tenggara province.

“Orcas appear in the Indonesian waters as they migrate in a pod of five to seven whales. It is common for the sea mammals to migrate as they follow the pattern of seawater temperature in search of food,” Exploitasia said.

Frenchman arrested for allegedly molesting 305 minors

Police in the Indonesian capital said they had arrested a French national for allegedly molesting more than 300 minors. 

The 65-year-old man, identified as Francois Camille Abello, invited the children to a Jakarta hotel and paid them between 250,000 rupiah (17.30 dollars) and  1 million rupiah to have sex with him while being videotaped, Jakarta police chief Nana Sujana said. 

He physically abused the minors if they refused to have sex with him, Nana said, adding that many of them were street children who were lured with the promise of modelling work.

The suspect, who was arrested last month, could face the death sentence if found guilty of raping multiple minors under the country’s child protection law. 

“When investigators raided his hotel room, he was found half-naked with two children,” Nana said.  

Evidence found in his hotel room include a laptop containing videos of his sex acts with 305 minors, police said.

Rough sailing for Indonesian crew on board Chinese fishing vessels

Life aboard a Chinese fishing vessel was a nightmare of abuse for Mashuri, who says he’s never going to sea again. The 22-year old Indonesian is now safely back on dry land, working as a technician at a motorcycle garage in Lumajang, East Java.

Mashuri says he escaped the brutal conditions by jumping overboard on April 7 with three other Indonesian crew members when they determined that the vessel was sailing in the Malacca Strait.

“Our mobile phone detected a roaming signal from a Malaysian operator, so we knew we were near Indonesia,” he said.

“The four of us jumped out of the boat at two o’clock in the morning. We were floating in the sea for about 12 hours until a cargo ship that was on its way to Kalimantan rescued us.”

The men were transferred to a Malaysian maritime vessel, disembarked in Johor and were handed over to the Indonesian Embassy, which then arranged for their return to their respective hometowns a few days later.

Initially, there were five of them on board the Fu Yuan Yu 1218, Mashuri said, and they had been sailing to fish in the Arabian Sea off Somalia and Oman. One of the Indonesian crewmen fell ill as a result of the slave-like working conditions, during which they were only able to rest for three hours a day, and died on board. He was buried at sea off Somalia. Two more Indonesian crewmen had been transferred from another boat, so there were six of them on board the vessel.

“They were supposed to let us disembark in Singapore but because of the (Covid-19) pandemic, they ditched the plan and were going to take us to China. I refused, and we got into a fight with the Chinese crew,” Mashuri said.

“They often hit us and I just couldn’t stand it anymore with the abusive working conditions. So, we decided to jump off the vessel.”

According to Mashuri, the men had been deceived, having been told that they had landed jobs on a Korean-flagged fishing vessel. But when they were in transit in Singapore, they were ushered onto a small Chinese-flagged boat, which then transferred them to a bigger one in the middle of the sea, and that was when their hardship began.

They were promised a US$300 monthly salary but in the end, Mashuri said he only received $200 per month as the other $100 was deducted every month by the agency that recruited them to pay for related costs, including preparing the necessary documents.

Mashuri and his three colleagues were not the only ones who resorted to the same desperate escape method from a Chinese fishing vessel.

Judha Nugraha, director for protection of Indonesian citizens abroad at the Foreign Ministry, said two Indonesian crew members, Andry Juniansyah and Reynalfi, also jumped off the Chinese-flagged Lu Qing Yuan Yu 901 when it was sailing in the Malacca Strait on June 5. They were rescued by fishermen from Riau Islands province in the early hours of the next day.

Mohammad Abdi Suhufan, the national coordinator for the fishermen’s advocacy group Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW), said that there were 12 Indonesians on board the Lu Qung Yuan Yu 901 but the other 10 refused to take the risk of jumping overboard. This was the sixth such incident within the last eight months.

“We noted there have been at least 30 Indonesian crew members who have been victims of abusive working conditions onboard Chinese vessels, with seven dead, three missing and 20 survived,” Mr Suhufan said.

In May, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi summoned China’s ambassador to clarify the deaths of Indonesian crewmen from two Chinese-flagged vessels.

The ministry acted after a video was circulated on social media, appearing to show a burial at sea from a Chinese-flagged ship. The footage showed a group of men praying around an orange body bag before it was tossed into the ocean.

Ms Retno said last month that three Indonesian crew members had died aboard Chinese-flagged fishing vessels since December and had been buried at sea.

The captain of the fleet said the sailors had to be buried at sea because they died from an infectious disease, and that the process followed international maritime rules, Reuters reported.

The conditions that Indonesian sailors had to endure amounted to human trafficking, Mr Suhufan told Asia Focus. Most of the complaints that DFW received involved an agency identified by its initials MTB, he added.

The Central Java police said they had arrested two recruiters who worked for the company on human trafficking charges. Brig Gen Ferdy Sambo, head of the general crimes unit at the National Police headquarters, said last month that officers had declared three others working for different agencies as suspects in a trafficking ring specialising in fishing vessel crews.

Mr Suhufan urged the Indonesian government to impose a moratorium on both legal and illegal recruitment and placement of crew members onboard Chinese fishing vessels, and improve governance in the recruitment process, including cracking down on the issuance of forged sailors’ log books.

Mr Nugraha of the Foreign Ministry said officials had recorded at least 1,095 cases of abusive and forced labour that Indonesian sailors had to endure while working at sea and most of them occurred onboard foreign and national fishing vessels.

But Mr Suhufan said the number is just the tip of the iceberg as many have departed without being properly documented.

“There are too many doors to recruiting crew members,” he said. “The least we can do is to crack down on the chain at the initial stage during recruitment.

“The government could forge a bilateral agreement with another country so that the sailors’ log books issued by the Indonesian authorities could be accredited by the authorities in countries where the crew members are placed to work.”

On May 8, Indonesia raised the issue with the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and requested that it pay closer attention to human rights violations in the fishery industry.

Hasan Kleib, Indonesia’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, Hasan Kleib said in a statement that Indonesia made specific reference to the often perilous conditions faced by Indonesian fishing crew members working on foreign vessels. Their rights are often violated as they have to endure inhumane living and working conditions, which in turn have resulted in casualties.

“During the virtual meeting between the president of the Human Rights Council, member and observer states, and civil society representatives, Indonesia underlines the urgent need for the council to protect the rights of vulnerable groups, specifically the rights of people working in the fisheries sector,” Ambassador Kleib said.

Such protection, he said, is not only crucial, but also strategic, as the fishery is a key component of food security, particularly at a time when the global pandemic could threaten food supplies.

The story was first published in Bangkok Post

How Indonesia’s Arab community is keeping its Middle Eastern customs alive

Along the K.H. Mas Mansyur Street in Surabaya’s Arab Quarter, crowds of shoppers during Ramadan were conspicuous this year by their absence.

There were no throngs of people crowding around the Ramadan bazaar food stalls selling famous Arab delicacies.

“With the social restrictions in place due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), we did not have such festivities this year,” said Abdullah Albatati, a resident of the Arab Quarter and head of the Surabaya Arab Community.

“Some of the food stalls served only local customers. The Middle Eastern eateries were open for takeout food, so people just came, bought and left,” he added.

One of the most captivating places in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, the Arab Quarter, situated to the north of Chinatown, offers vibrant evidence of its origins as an Arab trading post.

The shops lining the streets and alleys there bear names such as Nabawi, As Salam, Khadija, Al-Huda, Al-Hidayah, and Zamzam, and sell perfumes, dates, pistachios, prayer beads and other paraphernalia.

Abdurrahman Hasan Al Haddad (in white cap) and Abdullah Albatati in front of Al Haddad’s store Zamzam in Arab Quarter (Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata)

One of the oldest stores on the street is Salim Nabhan, a bookstore and publisher of Muslim literature established in 1908. It still prints some books in Arabic for Islamic boarding school students who are learning the language.

Trader Abdurrahman Hasan Al-Haddad, who owns Zamzam, is a fifth- or sixth-generation Arab, as is Albatati. Their ancestors migrated from Hadhramaut (in Yemen) in the 19th century to towns along the northern coast of Java Island and other islands across the then Dutch East Indies archipelago to settle in Surabaya.

The Arab Quarter, which comes under the sub-district of Ampel in the Surabaya district of Semampir, has the largest concentration of Arabs in Indonesia.

They comprise the majority as opposed to the other ethnic groups such as the Javanese, the Madurese from Madura Island, Bugis from Sulawesi Island, or the Malays who migrated to the region and whose descendants now live in Ampel.

“As one of the ethnic groups in Indonesia, we still maintain our Arab roots, but it never makes us feel any less Indonesian, Javanese or Surabayan,” said Albatati, as he chatted with his friend Al-Haddad on the latter’s decision to relocate his shop.

According to Huub de Jonge, Dutch anthropologist and Indonesianist from the Netherland’s Radboud University Nijmegen, more than 95 percent of the Arab community in Indonesia trace their roots to Hadhrami tradesmen who migrated there, married local women, and formed families who spread out.

De Jonge said that the Arab community is the second-most important minority group of foreign origin in Indonesia.

In his book on the Hadhrami Arabs in Indonesia, “Mencari Identitas: Orang Arab Hadhrami di Indonesia (1900-1950),” meaning Searching for Identity: Hadhrami Arabs in Indonesia (1900-1950), de Jonge writes that the nationalist Abdul Rahman Baswedan, the grandfather of the current Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, hailed from the Arab Quarter in Ampel.

As a journalist turned politician in the early decades of the 20th century, Abdul Rahman Baswedan was critical of the social-class hierarchy within the minority group and its insularity.

The elder Baswedan was instrumental in the establishment of the Indonesian Arab Union in 1934 and championed the Hadhrami community’s integration with the wider society, urging his community to start referring to the country they lived in as their homeland.

Read the full story in Arab News

Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help remote villages fight virus

A group of tech-savvy young locals in Indonesia’s northern North Halmahera regency is spreading awareness about the dangers of COVID-19 in remote corners of the archipelago at a time when bureaucracy has impeded a rapid response to the pandemic.

The Relawan Merah Putih, or Red and White Volunteers, includes a multimedia expert, university students, lecturers, civil servants and a web developer in Tobelo, the main city of North Halmahera in North Maluku province, about 2,500 km from the capital Jakarta.

The city is located on Halmahera island, part of the Maluku Islands, Indonesia’s fabled Spice Islands on the northeastern part of the sprawling archipelago.

Stevie Recaldo Karimang, a 28-year-old freelance photographer and videographer, said that he set up the group after social restrictions introduced to counter the pandemic put him out of business. 

He quickly developed a website on the pandemic and created online flyers and audiovisual materials that he and 31 other volunteers distributed on social media platforms and messaging apps to educate the public about the pandemic soon after the first cases in Indonesia were confirmed in Jakarta in early March.

“We translated the information we took from the national COVID-19 task force into the market language spoken here, which is a mixture of Indonesian and the local dialect, to make it more understandable for the locals,” Karimang said.

The group also used a drone to issue public warnings against mass gatherings.

“The drone helped to remind people not to form a crowd when social restrictions were enforced. We attached a flashlight to the device to catch the crowd’s attention, and we were able to dismiss such gatherings.”

But the volunteers shifted their efforts to rural areas after the first coronavirus case in North Maluku province was confirmed on March 23.

Jubhar Mangimbulude, a microbiology expert at Halmahera University and the group’s adviser, said the team had visited 30 isolated villages out of 196 townships in the regency, which is home to 161 million people.

“We reached one village after hours of driving over rough terrain. We have to use four-wheel-drive vehicles because along the way we may have to cross a river where the bridge is damaged,” he said.

Relawan Merah Putih handed over their assistance to village officials in Duma village of North Maluku regency during a campaign to spread awareness of the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo: Relawan Merah Putih/Komunitas Manyawa)

Mangimbulude said that many villagers were unaware of the pandemic and only knew from TV that a dangerous virus was spreading quickly and infecting people. He was glad to find that no COVID-19 cases had been detected among the villagers.

But he acknowledged that misinformation was rife and said that he had to debunk myths about “how alcohol could be used to prevent the disease.”

“The villagers heard that the virus can be killed with heat in one’s body, and since drinking alcohol can warm the body, they encouraged their children and elders to drink a local alcoholic beverage made of fermented sugar palm fruit,” Mangimbulude said.

Fellow volunteer Oscar Berthomene, a local civil servant, said that the group was able to move faster than the regency administration whose bureaucracy slowed down the response to the pandemic.

“I have support from my supervisor, and we were able to help their activities with cars to allow them to move around,” he said.

The regency has about 18 percent of the 953 cases in the province, which make up about 1.5 percent of the national total of 62,142 as of Saturday.

This story was first published in Arab News

Sumatran tiger dies of poisoning in Aceh

A critically endangered Sumatran tiger has died of insecticide poisoning in Indonesia’s Aceh province, a conservation official said on Wednesday. 

The female tiger, aged between 2-3 years, was found in South Aceh district on Monday with injuries caused by a snare, said Agus Arianto, the head of the provincial government’s Nature Conservation Agency.  

“A necropsy indicates it died of poisoning caused by an agricultural insecticide,” he said. 

It was not clear if the tiger was deliberately poisoned. 

Last month, another Sumatran tiger died after it ate a sheep laced with rat poison in neighbouring North Sumatra province.

In June, police in Aceh also arrested four people for allegedly killing a tiger with a trap and selling its hide, skull and fangs for 100 million rupiah (7,000 dollars).

Conservationists said the coronavirus pandemic had led to increased poaching in the forests on Sumatra island, as locals turn to hunting to make ends meet.

An increased amount of traps have been found in Sumatra, which is home to some of the world’s most endangered species, according to the conservation group Leuser Conservation Forum.

The Sumatran tiger is the only tiger subspecies left in Indonesia, after the tigers on the islands of Java and Bali became extinct years ago.

There are only about 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild, and their population is dwindling due to poaching and loss of natural habitat caused by rapid deforestation for palm oil plantations, conservationists warn.

Indonesia battles dengue outbreak as COVID-19 persists

Indonesia is battling a second deadly disease, dengue fever, which continues to infect its population way past the average peak recorded earlier this year, after efforts to prevent the outbreak were sidelined by anti-COVID-19 restrictions.

According to the Health Ministry, as of Monday there were 68,000 dengue cases across the nation, resulting in 446 deaths.

Deserted tourism hotspots, such as Lombok in West Nusa Tenggara and Buleleng, Denpasar, and Badung in Bali are among the regions recording the most significant number of dengue infections.

COVID-19 cases were also on the rise in Bali, which had 1,080 cases as of Monday.  

“Many hotels that are left empty may have become breeding grounds for mosquito populations,” Siti Nadia Tarmizi, the Health Ministry’s director for vector-borne and zoonotic diseases, said.

“They have always been in check with regular mosquito larvae controlling measures but, with workers off duty, the efforts have been largely unchecked.” 

She said that while Bali had always recorded a significant number of dengue cases, they had never been as high as this year.

“We encourage operators of hotels and places of worship to also conduct larvae busting efforts in addition to disinfecting their premises ahead of the reopening of tourism areas.”

In previous years, dengue fever season would have peaked by March or April. But  this year the country is seeing a prolonged period of infections, with many cases still being recorded in June.

“Normally we would find less than 10 cases by June but, this year, we still find 100 to 500 cases every day so far, although the number of cases and fatalities year-on-year are not as high as June 2019, which recorded 105,000 cases and 727 deaths,” Tarmizi added.

Dengue fever first hit Indonesia in 1968, and the fatality rate had reached almost 50 percent. However, health authorities managed to control the outbreak and reduced the fatality rate to less than one percent over the years.

A spike in the dengue outbreak occurred in 2015, with authorities pulling out all the stops to prevent a recurrence.

But they are also likely to be dealing with double infection cases as the dengue outbreak is occurring in provinces that are most infected by coronavirus such as West Java, Jakarta, East Java, and South Sulawesi, Dr. Tarmizi said.

A chart from the Health Ministry has marked the whole of Java — Indonesia’s most populated island where 141 million of the country’s 270 million people live — in red, indicating that infections are high in the area.

The provinces located in Java, including the capital, Jakarta, West Java, and East Java are also the worst-hit by COVID-19.

Indonesia reported 954 new COVID-19 cases and 35 deaths on Monday, increasing the national total to 46,845, and the fatalities to 2,500, while Jakarta’s cases reached 10,098.

“While dengue can infect people of all ages, we have seen a trend of teenagers who are already in a critical phase being admitted (to hospitals),” Dr. Mulya Rahma Karyanti, a pediatrician, said during an online press conference on Monday.

The Indonesian Pediatric Society (IDAI) chairman, Aman Pulungan, has said that dengue fever is among a list of health problems that many Indonesian minors suffer from, making them among the most vulnerable to be infected by coronavirus.

Living with the dead: Indonesia’s Torajans downsize burials amid pandemic

She had been dead for two years and was ready to be buried. After restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) were imposed in March, however, villagers in the La’bo village of the North Toraja regency in Sulawesi Island had no choice but to suspend the ceremony at the last minute.

On Saturday, they were finally able to hold a proper burial for the deceased village elder in a toned-down version of the elaborate, centuries-old ceremony known as Rambu Solo. The ceremony is central to the lives of the Toraja ethnic group, who are predominantly Christian but hold some animistic belief.

The Torajas inhabit two administrative areas — the North Toraja and Tana Toraja regencies — in the South Sulawesi province.

For Torajans, the deceased are not dead yet; they are seen, rather, as sick. Family members still talk to them, bringing food and drinks and keeping essential items nearby. The mummified corpse remains unburied in the family’s tongkonan, or a Toraja traditional house, while years of preparations for the burial ceremony is underway. It is a large family affair which would last for up to a week in pre-COVID-19 times, involving the entire village and requires the sacrifice of dozens of buffaloes.

“We condensed the ceremony to only two days. We also conducted the burial in compliance with health protocols by providing a hand washing station at the entrance. All mourners who came in had to wear face masks,” Yohannes Limbong, a family representative said.

The family was supposed to hold the ceremony on March 25, but it was suspended after the regency administration issued a stay-at-home order on March 23, advising citizens to hold off on any events involving large gatherings of people such as the Rambu Solo.

A relative mourns on the deceased’s coffin. (Photo: Lisa Saba Palloan)

As of Saturday, the regency has not reported any COVID-19 deaths, but there were four confirmed cases, all of whom were travelers from virus-infected areas, including the provincial capital, Makassar, about 317 kilometers away. 

The province has had 3,635 confirmed cases so far or about 8 percent of the 45,029 national caseloads. North Toraja, which has a population of 230,000, has lifted some restrictions in recent weeks after the region was considered an area where the risk of infections is low, allowing for religious events. Participants are nevertheless required to observe health protocols.

“There were less than 100 mourners who attended the ceremony. Normally, it would be double that amount or more,” Lisa Saba Palloan, a local tourist guide, said.

Romba Marannu Sombolinggi, chairwoman of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago Toraya chapter, said that families who conducted the burials recently had to compromise between the obligation to perform a respectable send-off and compliance with social restrictions.

“A complete ceremony could take at least five days,” she said.

“But we are obeying government regulations. There are some disappointments, but we understand the situation. We do not want people to be infected because we insist on having the long ceremony.”

A few people had died who were under treatment but who had tested negative for COVID-19. They had to be buried in accordance with health protocols as soon as possible, which meant that the surviving family members could not keep the deceased embalmed in their houses as they would traditionally do.

“The families still performed the most essential rituals, including sacrificing at least a pig or a buffalo before the burial,” Sombolinggi said.

Sombolinggi said that buffaloes are sacrificed to mark the symbolic passage to death since they would serve as the deceased’s “carriage” in the afterlife.

“It is very much about the family’s dignity. They would otherwise experience social repercussions if they were not able to hold a presentable burial,” she added.

Read the full story in Arab News

Surviving as a refugee becomes more testing during pandemic

More than 200 refugees and asylum seekers sheltering in a rundown military command headquarters in Kalideres, West Jakarta, remain as isolated as ever.

This is despite the surrounding residential areas returning to life with the gradual lifting of the city’s coronavirus restrictions.

It is a very contrasting world divided only by the fence between those who have set up their temporary homes in small dome tents in the deserted compound and those living in the middle-class residential area.

The lives of the former remain in a state of indefinite uncertainty awaiting permanent resettlement to a third country. The pandemic has been making the situation worse as refugees have had to resort to their own means to isolate themselves and prevent the vulnerable group from contracting the disease.

“Nothing has changed for us. Our situation as a whole is really different than the outside world,” a refugee community spokesperson, Hassan Ramazan, said on Friday.

“We are still locking our doors and we don’t ease our restrictions. The situation around the camp is more crowded now but we are more careful than before.”

The community decided to isolate itself after hearing on the news that there were 20 people infected with the disease in the Kalideres area at the beginning of the pandemic.

“The main gate is locked, and we only open the small gate that we take turns to guard to prevent people coming in as we isolate ourselves because of the coronavirus,” Ramazan said during a visit to the camp in May.

Refugees have been living in the camp since July 2019. Initially, hundreds of refugees were taken to the temporary shelter, but the Jakarta city administration ordered them to leave the building by August 2019. Some have left while others stayed behind — 245 people from 28 families, 40 children, and single men such as Ramazan. There are also three septuagenarians and two people who are in the sixties. Most of them are Hazara people from Afghanistan, along with a few Iraqis. Four babies have been born during this time at the Kalideres camp.

Electricity and running water are scarce. Even the street lights outside, which provided some lighting to the parking lot, were turned off in the evening, Ramazan said.

“Our lives depend on donations to keep the water and electricity running and assistance comes in occasionally and irregularly. We could have water and food enough for certain days until the next donations come again,” he said.

There were days when donations came in the form of a prepaid electricity token, so the people could have electricity for a certain time. However when the token ran out, and until another was donated, they could be left with no electricity at all for days, Ramazan said.

International agencies had visited the camp informing the inhabitants about social distancing guidelines at the beginning of the pandemic and sprayed disinfectants in the building.

“But that’s it. They told us to wash our hands but they don’t provide us with water. They told us to stay home but where is home for us?” Ramazan said.

Read the full story in Arab News