Indonesia: another senseless killing for palm oil

A man wearing a Brimob logo and an assault rifle on his back in front of bulldozed rainforest Palm oil companies hire armed thugs to protect their plantations (© Save Our Borneo)
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Ajak Sismanto only wanted to visit his family – and was killed by a police bullet on the grounds of a palm oil mill. Palm oil companies in Indonesia often hire soldiers and police to guard their plantations, and our Indonesian partners are calling for an end to their violence against local communities. Please lend them your voice.

Call to action

To: the President of the Republic of Indonesia; the Governor of Central Kalimantan, Agustin Teras Narang, the District Chief of East-Kotawaringin, Supian Hadi, rang

“End the violence, land grabbing and rainforest destruction for palm oil. Investigate the killing of Ajak Sismanto and resolve the land conflict with Penyang.”

Read letter

Ajak Sismanto had nothing to do with the palm oil company PT. Agro Bukit. The 25-year-old wanted to visit his family in Penyang, a town in the Indonesian province of Central Kalimantan on Borneo that is also the location of one of the company’s plantations.

On June 10, Sismanto drove to the oil mill with four villagers to inquire why the company had ordered the arrest of a group of farmers. The entrance was guarded by PT. Agro Bukit security and officers of the infamous Brimob special forces unit. The sight of the Brimob prompted some of the men to flee from the car. “One of the officers fired through the windshield and hit Sismanto in the abdomen. They then took him to the company hospital 40 km away, where he died eight days later,” as Nordin, a member of our partner organization Save our Borneo, reports.

The death of the completely uninvolved man is the tragic culmination of a long conflict between the people of Penyang and PT. Agro Bukit: The villagers were not consulted in 2004 when the local government gave the company a permit for a plantation on 6,000 hectares of forest and farmland belonging to the community.

Following Sismanto’s death, Save our Borneo activists took to the streets to demand an investigation and the revocation of PT. Agro Bukit’s operating license. They are also calling on the government to outlaw the hiring of soldiers or police officers as security forces by plantation companies.

While the parliament of Central Kalimantan promised an investigation, nothing has come of it to date. We hope that the newly elected President of Indonesia will put an end to the violence. Please lend your voice to our petition.



PT. Agro Bukit, a palm oil company, was granted a permit for an oil palm plantation by the Penyang municipal government in 2004. The area in question was a total of 6,000 hectares of forest and fields that the local villagers and farmers relied on for their livelihoods. They were neither asked, nor compensated for the loss of their land.

Thus began a conflict that continues to this day. The people repeatedly demonstrated against the eviction and publicly demanded justice.

In the meantime, PT. Agro Bukit clear-cut the forest, planted vast oil palm monocultures and harvested the fruit. In 2012, the farmers again tried to draw attention to the injustice by blocking the company’s palm oil transports and harvesting the oil palm fruit themselves. The company responded with violence and had the farmers arrested. Only then did officials and members of parliament get involved in the conflict. This led to an agreement between the company and the community in which, among other things, neither side would harvest fruit until the land dispute had been resolved.

PT. Agro Bukit did not honor the agreement, however, and continued harvesting while doing nothing about the land conflict. The disillusioned farmers responded by harvesting as well, upon which the company hired more police to stop them. In June of this year, the violence escalated: five farmers were arrested for the theft of oil palm fruit, and a man was shot: Ajak Sismanto, who had nothing to do with the conflict.

According to its own information, PT. Agro Bukit operates six plantations in Central and South Kalimantan covering a total of 17,643 hectares. While the company is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), none of its plantations were certified as of 2012. It has stated that it will have 100 percent of its plantations and mills certified by 2015.

This case shows that RSPO membership and certification do nothing to prevent land grabbing or the use of lethal force.

The same holds true for PT. Agro Bukit’s parent company: Singapore-based Goodhope Asia Holdings claims nearly 157,000 hectares of land in Indonesia and Malaysia for palm oil plantations – half of that area is presently in use. Goodhope is already planning to expand its palm oil operations to western and central Africa.


To: the President of the Republic of Indonesia; the Governor of Central Kalimantan, Agustin Teras Narang, the District Chief of East-Kotawaringin, Supian Hadi, rang

Dear Mr. President, dear Governor Agustin Teras Narang, dear District Chief Supian Hadi,

Time and again, my attention has been drawn to reports of land grabbing, human rights violations and the use of lethal force in connection with palm oil production in your country – palm oil which is exported worldwide and finds its way into our foods and fuel tanks. While I do not always have the option to avoid palm oil in everyday life, I do not want to consume a product for which rainforest is destroyed and people are intimidated and even killed.

A recent, shocking event has prompted me to sign this petition:

On June 10, the 25-year-old Ajak Sismanto was hit by a police bullet and died of his injuries eight days later in a hospital in Sampit. The act was reported by eyewitnesses who traveled with Ajak Sismanto to the PT. Agro Bukit oil mill in Penyang to inquire about the arrest of a number of farmers. The car was stopped by armed security personnel and police of the Brimob unit. As some of the men fled the car in fear of the Brimob, one of the officers fired through the windshield and hit Sismanto in the abdomen. Witnesses report that the police attempted to remove the bullet to destroy the evidence. Only then did they take him to the company hospital 40 km away. According to the environmental organization Save our Borneo, an autopsy report has not been issued to date, nor has the case been officially investigated. Instead, the police publicly portrayed the victim as a criminal. People standing up for their rights have been criminalized time and again, as human rights advocates have been pointing out for years.

The death of the completely uninvolved man – Ajak Sismanto only wanted to visit his family in Penyang – is the tragic culmination of a long conflict between the people of Penyang and PT. Agro Bukit: Villagers were not consulted in 2004 when the local government gave the company a permit for a plantation on 6,000 hectares of forest and farmland belonging to the community.

On behalf of the local population and the NGO Save our Borneo, I call on you to:
* Ensure that the death of Ajak Sismanto is investigated, the guilty are brought to justice, and the victim’s family is compensated.
* Revoke the operating license of PT. Agro Bukit and ensure that the palm oil company takes responsibility for the act.
* Return the land to the people of Penyang and restore the rainforest areas.
* Take measures to prevent companies from hiring soldiers, police and other state security forces to guard plantations.



The issue – rainforest on our dinner tables and in our fuel tanks


At 66 million tons annually, palm oil is the most commonly produced vegetable oil. Its low world market price and properties that lend themselves to processed foods have led the food industry to use it in half of all supermarket products. Palm oil can be found in frozen pizzas, biscuits and margarine, as well as body creams, soaps, makeup, candles and detergents.

Few people realize that almost half of the palm oil imported into the EU is used as biofuel. Since 2009, the mandatory blending of biofuels into motor vehicle fuels has been a major cause of deforestation.

Oil palm plantations currently cover more than 27 million hectares of the Earth’s surface. Forests and human settlements have been destroyed and replaced by “green deserts” containing virtually no biodiversity on an area the size of New Zealand.

The impact – suffering and death in producer countries, climate havoc

The warm, humid climate of the tropics offers perfect growth conditions for oil palms. Day after day, huge tracts of rainforest in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa are being bulldozed or torched to make room for more plantations, releasing vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. As a consequence, Indonesia – the world’s largest producer of palm oil – temporarily surpassed the United States in terms of greenhouse gas emissions in 2015. With their CO2 and methane emissions, palm oil-based biofuels actually have three times the climate impact of traditional fossil fuels.

Palm oil is not only bad for the climate: As their forest habitat is cleared, endangered species such as the orangutan, Borneo elephant and Sumatran tiger are being pushed closer to extinction. Smallholders and indigenous people who have inhabited and protected the forest for generations are often brutally driven from their land. In Indonesia, more than 700 land conflicts are related to the palm oil industry. Human rights violations are everyday occurrences, even on supposedly “sustainable” and “organic” plantations.

As consumers, we are largely unaware of these broader issues, yet our daily palm oil consumption also impacts our health: refined palm oil contains large amounts of harmful fatty acid esters that are known to damage DNA and cause cancer.

The solution – a revolution on our dinner tables and in our fuel tanks

Only 70,000 orangutans still roam the forests of Southeast Asia, yet the EU’s biofuels policy is pushing them to the brink of extinction. Every new plantation on Borneo is destroying a further piece of their habitat. Stepping up the pressure on policymakers is a must if we want to save our tree-dwelling kin. Apart from that, however, there is still a lot we can do in day-to-day life.

Follow these simple tips to recognize, avoid and combat palm oil:

  1. Enjoy a home-cooked meal: Use your imagination: why not try almond-coconut-pear biscuits? Or pizza with potato and rosemary? A meal cooked from fresh ingredients beats processed foods containing palm oil every time. Oils such as sunflower, olive, rapeseed or flaxseed are ideal for cooking and baking.
  2. Read labels: As of December 2014, labeling regulations in the EU require food products to clearly indicate that they contain palm oil. However, in the case of non-food items such as cosmetics and cleaning products, a wide range of chemical names may still be used to hide the use of palm oil. A quick check of your favorite search engine will turn up palm oil-free alternatives, however.
  3. Remember that the customer is king: Ask your retailers for palm oil-free products. Write product manufacturers and ask them why they aren’t using domestic oils. Companies can be quite sensitive to issues that give their products a bad name, so inquiring with sales staff and contacting manufacturers can make a real difference. Public pressure and increased awareness of the problem have already prompted some producers to stop using palm oil.
  4. Sign petitions and write your elected representatives: Online campaigns put pressure on policymakers responsible for biofuels and palm oil imports. Have you already signed all of Rainforest Rescue’s petitions?
  5. Speak out: Protest marches and creative action on the street raise public and media awareness of the issue, which in turn steps up the pressure on policymakers.
  6. Leave your car at home: Whenever you can, walk, ride a bicycle or use public transport.
  7. Be informed and inform others: Big Business and governments would like us to believe that biofuels are good for the climate and that oil palm plantations are sustainable. Spread the word – share this information with your family and friends and encourage them to rethink their consumption habits. It’s in our hands!

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