Loh Chee Kong
A MOVE to protest International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank policies — right at Singapore's doorstep — has been officially banned by the Batam police.
Unable to stage outdoor demonstrations in Singapore during the IMF-World Bank meet next week, about 1,000 delegates from non-governmental organisations around the world had decided to hold their protest at the nearby Indonesian island instead.
Under Indonesia laws, Indonesians are allowed street protests if they write in to inform the authorities three days ahead. However, since the activists' plans were made public, various Indonesian officials — and even fellow NGOs — were reportedly lukewarm toward their proposed demonstrations and forum. Some 18 Indonesian NGOs also took out a half-page advertisement in a Batam daily voicing their opposition to the forum, arguing that a big gathering of NGOs activists would "undermine the investment climate on the island".
And on Wednesday, the Batam police sent a letter to the organisers that not only would their four-hour protest, planned for Sept 18, be outlawed, but their forum would be banned as well. The activists had planned to dissect IMF-World Bank policies during discussions at the forum.
The Batam police declined to comment when contacted over the phone by Today. Nonetheless, in the authorities' letter which was obtained by Today, the police cited political, economic and security reasons for the ban, adding that the other NGOs were not in favour of the event as well.
Mr Donatus Marut, co-chairman of the international steering committee of International People's Forum, said he could not understand the authorities' decision.
Some 1,000 delegates — 700 Indonesian and the rest from countries like Italy, Norway, the Philippines and Tanzania — from 74 NGOs in 40 countries were due to arrive on Batam next Monday, said Mr Marut, who is based in Jakarta.
He added: "They have bought air tickets and the hotel bookings have been made. We will meet and discuss our next step.
"Or they could just come and be tourists," he added wryly.
Mr Ramches Merdeka, an anti-human trafficking activist based on Batam, told Today that they would probably cancel the protest and the forum, but would still try to hold "informal discussions". On Sept 14, some 250 of the originally scheduled 1,000 delegates will still come to Singapore to attend a seminar with IMF and World Bank representatives. Batam police will also help to maintain security in Singapore during the meet, according to Indonesian officials.