Borneo: Freedom for Willem Hengki – an open letter to the court

Demonstration for the release of village chief Willem Hengki from Kinipan in front of the court in Palangkaraya Freedom for Willem Hengki! Protest in front of the court, June 14, 2022 (© Save Our Borneo)

Jun 14, 2022

The villagers of Kinipan on Borneo have been resisting the clearing of their forests for palm oil for years. Since January 2022, village chief Willem Hengki has been in jail on a trumped-up embezzlement charge. 72 organizations are calling for his release in an open letter to the court.

In the run-up to the sentencing of Willem Hengki, village chief of Kinipan village in Borneo, 72 environmental and human rights organizations have addressed the court and demanded his unconditional release, saying the embezzlement charge is trumped up.

In Indonesia, Kinipan has become synonymous with resistance to the destruction of forests for oil palm plantations. Rainforest Rescue has reported on the conflict and supports the #SaveKinipan movement.

The following is a translation by Rainforest Rescue of the original Indonesian letter:

Open letter to the court in Palangkaraya

Freedom for Willem Hengki!

Indonesia is once again witnessing brutality under the guise of law enforcement. Kinipan village chief Willem Hengki, a man known for his commitment to indigenous rights, is accused of corruption. The arguments and evidence presented by the law enforcement authorities are not genuine, but strengthen the impression that manipulation has taken place. This case can only be seen as an attempt to silence critical voices in the population.

The judges of the Palangkaraya Corruption Court will deliver the verdict against the accused on Wednesday, June 15, 2022. The public prosecutor is calling for a prison sentence of one year and six months. His fellow citizens, however, consider Willem Hengki's actions to have been right. As the village head of Kinipan, he provided funds for the construction of a village road and paid for the work once the road was completed. However, shortly after the payment, he was arrested by the police in January 2022 and brought to court, with the authorities claiming that he had acted unlawfully. However, the accusation that Hengki caused financial damage to the state is merely a subjective assessment without any concrete evidence.

The judiciary's issues with Willem Hengki can only be understood if one knows about his successes in Kinipan. He has actively campaigned for the rights of indigenous people suffering from deforestation by a large palm oil company. Unfortunately, the regent of the Lamandau district remains passive and does nothing to protect local people. The Hengki case has been constructed on his inaction. It is simply inconceivable that the payment from the village treasury is the real reason for the case against Willem Hengki.

As the trial draws to a close, we would like to remind the judges to be objective, professional and independent when deciding Hengki's case. There are at least two things to consider:

First, Article 5(1) of the Judiciary Act, which emphasizes that judges must research, follow and understand the meaning of law and the community's sense of justice. As was pointed out several times during the trial, the construction of the road in the village of Kinipan is solely for the benefit of the community and not for that of Hengki, as claimed by the law enforcement authorities.

Second, the judges' ruling will affect the climate for Indonesian democracy. As explained above, Hengki, as village chief of Kinipan, is known as a figure who consistently works to protect indigenous rights. If found guilty, it is almost certain that advocacy for indigenous rights in other regions will be overshadowed by similar practices of coercion to prosecute.

We therefore call on the Palangkaraya Corruption Court to clear Willem Hengki of all charges.

Jakarta, June 14, 2022


  1. Busyro Muqoddas (Chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission, 2010- 2011)
  2. Bambang Widjojanto (Second Chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission, 2011-2015).
  3. Abraham Samad (Chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission, 2011- 2015).
  4. Saut Situmorang (Second Chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission, 2015-2019).
  5. Febri Diansyah (Spokesperson of the Anti-Corruption Commission, 2016-2019)
  6. Indonesia Corruption Watch
  7. Lembaga Studi dan Advokasi Masyarakat (ELSAM)
  8. FITRA, National Secretariat
  9. LBH Palangka Raya (legal aid organization)
  10. Yayasan Pusaka Bentala Rakyat
  11. WALHI (Friends of the Earth Indonesia)
  12. Greenpeace Indonesia
  13. Henry Thomas Simarmata (Indonesian Institute for Law & Human Rights)
  14. debtWATCH Indonesia
  15. JPIC Kalimantan (Justitia et Pax)
  16. Akar Law Office
  17. PBHI Nasional (legal aid organization)
  18. Extinction Rebellion Indonesia
  19. Jeda Untuk Iklim (Pause for the Climate)
  20. Partai Hijau Indonesia (Indonesian Green Party)
  21. Yayasan Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Indonesia (legal aid organization)
  22. SAKSI FH Unmul
  23. KIKA
  24. Bangsa Mahasiswa
  25. MCW Malang
  26. Nomaden Institute Samarinda
  27. Aksi kamisan kaltim
  28. Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (AMAN) (Indigenous Peoples Alliance)
  29. Save Our Borneo (SOB)
  30. AMAN Kalimantan Tengah
  31. WALHI Kalimantan Tengah
  32. IM57+ Institute
  33. Phatri Kediri
  34. Papanjati Jawa timur
  35. Sertawangi Banyuwangi
  36. Sawit Watch
  37. HuMA
  38. Solidaritas Advokat Indonesia (SAI)
  39. Wahyu Wagiman (Managing Director BHR Institute)
  40. Public Interest Lawyer Network (PIL-NET)
  41. International NGOs Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID)
  42. LBH Surabaya
  43. Pukat UGM
  44. TuK Indonesia
  45. The Institute for Ecosoc Rights
  46. Forest Watch Indonesia (FWI)
  47. Kaoem Telapak
  48. Parlin Bayu Hutabarat, S.H, M.H (Law Office Parlin Hutabarat & Partners)
  49. Papua Forest Watch
  50. Jaringan Pemantau Independen Kehutanan (JPIK)
  51. Auriga Nusantara
  52. LBH Respublica
  53. Pusat Studi Anti-Korupsi & Demokrasi (PUSAD) UM Surabaya
  54. LMND Kota Palangka Raya.
  55. Yayasan Betang Borneo Indonesia
  56. BEM F. pertanian UPR
  57. Louise Theresia (Akademis UPR)
  58. Pusat Kajian Bantuan Hukum dan Anti Korupsi LPPM Universitas Palangka Raya
  59. Pantau Gambut
  61. Aliansi Selamatkan Malang Raya
  69. Selamatkan Hutan Hujan (Rainforest Rescue)
  70. Agus Sutomo Teraju Foundation
  71. Moses Thomas - Masyarakat Adat.
  72. Tariu Borneo Bangkule Rajakng (TBBR)

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