Academics Denounce Attempts to Shut Down the People’s Water Forum 2024 in Bali, Indonesia

20th May, 2024

Latest Alert: People’s Water Forum in Bali Intimidated and Forced to Disband: Repeated Practice of Silencing Freedom of Opinion at the Momentum of International Forums

[Read the statement in Bahasa Indonesia and Spanish here. List of signatories are also included.]

We, the undersigned, are writing to denounce recent efforts to suppress the People’s Water Forum (PWF) in Bali, Indonesia, through the cancellation of event venues at the Indonesian Arts Institute and the interrogation/intimidation of local organizers by intelligence officers.

The cancellation of our events at an academic institution through coercion and restriction by law enforcement constitutes a violation of the UN Principles for Implementing the Right to Academic Freedom. Specifically, disrespecting the autonomy of academic institutions to operate without surveillance or military intervention, fear of sanction or threats to the security and integrity of institutional leaders (Principle 3). The Right to Academic Freedom also includes the freedom of association (Principle 6), which requires states “respect, encourage and develop international contacts and cooperation among academic, research and teaching staff and students, including through international gatherings and collaborative projects.”

The People’s Water Forum is a coordinating platform for water justice movements around the world. Our collective criticism of the World Water Forum (WWF) and its corporate-driven agenda is informed by our experiences as social movement networks, grassroots organizers, environmental groups, labour organizations and academics representing and serving those most impacted by privatization, commodification and poisoning of our water supplies.

Networks affiliated with the People’s Water Forum (previously known as the Alternative World Water Forum) have organized for nearly 20 years to offer an open, accessible space for frontline communities, workers and water defenders to share knowledge and build solutions towards a just, equitable and sustainable water future. Since 2003, we have consolidated our efforts to build solidarity and capacity through regional and global networks through the following key gatherings: in Kyoto 2003, Mexico 2006, Istanbul 2009, Marseille 2012, Daegu 2015, Brasiila 2018 and Dakar 2022.

The networked communities within PWF is aware that the actors of WWF have made previous attempts to influence local institutions to cancel our events, they have never succeeded.

It is very unfortunate that the good intentions and critical traditions within the PWF were silenced by the state apparatus of the Republic of Indonesia; the Forum planned on 20th -23rd May 2024 at the Indonesian Arts Institute in Denpasar Bali has been forcibly cancelled. This will be in history as the first cancelled PWF in an authoritarian manner by the State as a result of the influence of the WWF.

The following is a chronology of events leading to the cancellation of PWF events and withdrawal of support from the Indonesian Institute of Arts:

  • On April 2 2024, the management of the Bintang Gana Foundation, a local organization representing the PWF national committee, contacted the Chancellor of the Indonesian Institute of Arts to discuss their collaboration in the Community Water Cultural Conference event. Based on the Chancellor’s positive response, the Foundation sent an official letter requesting cooperation.
  • On April 18 2024 a technical meeting was held between the Foundation and the University, during which the Chancellor requested that the ISI logo be included in the event and authorized the participation of several ISI staff in the organizing committee.
  • On May 4 2024, six police intelligence officers came to the house of the director of the Bintang Gana Foundation; they asked about the agenda ahead of WWF and whether there would be a counter agenda or action.
  • On May 5 2024, four police intelligence officers returned to the house of the director of the Bintang Gana Foundation for the reason of coordinating ahead of the WWF, but the officers were in fact specifically targeting issues related to PWF, as they said that they were informed through social media. When being asked again about counter action, the director answered that there was no demonstration planned because it would be quite troublesome and more likely it would be disbanded as in the context of the 2022 G20 Bali Summit.
  • On May 7 2024, the director’s residence was visited again, this time by military intelligence officers; the director’s wife was questioned. On the same day, Kubu Kopi (where activists and journalists usually gather) was visited by intelligence, and the cafe staff were also questioned.
  • On May 13, 2024, the ISI chancellor called the Foundation director to inform him that the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research and Technology had called and asked him to cancel the event or postpone the event until WWF had finished. The management of the Bintang Gana Foundation requested a letter of cancellation from the chancellor but this was not granted. A cancellation letter was then issued, but without reason.
  • On May 14 2024, the guest house which was willing to provide accommodation for the PWF participants canceled the reservation made by the committee.
  • Since May 15 2024, there have been many disturbances: social media accounts of PWF organizers have been hacked, the registration link and PWF website were trolled by individuals whose IP addresses were from Bali.
  • The committee began looking for new locations to hold the PWF, but several locations that were considered possible had also been terrorised and intimidated by intelligence.
  • Around midnight on 18th May 2024, the accommodation of activists of Solidaritas Perempuan (Women in Solidarity), was observed by intelligence officers, causing worries and disturbances to their resting time.

The Indonesian Coalition for the Right to Water (KRUHA), as the coordinator of PWF network in Indonesia, assesses that in the last ten years there has been a pattern of intimidation of critical events towards civil society, by putting pressure on the providers of the event venues. Since 2013 protests against the state have been restricted. In 2018 at the annual World Bank and International Monetary Fund (WB-IMF) event in Bali, a mass prayer action in Renon was dispersed by the police. All of these together is one form and manifestation of anti-democratic intention of the Indonesian state.

Bali is dominated by a tourism industry, an inherently water-hungry industry which brings Bali to experience a water crisis of its own. Consequently, the livelihoods of farmers and local communities are undermined for the sake of capital accumulation and its negative externalities. Thus, communities in Bali have stakes in the environmental sustainability agenda, including water sources, for a more socially and environmentally just tourism industry.

The PWF in Indonesia has been collaborating with allies around the world over the past year in the lead-up to this event. The “Roadmap towards PWF 2024”, included several hybrid events, such as a celebration of World Water Day 22 May 2024 connecting virtual seminars with face-to-face meetings in Yogyakarta and Semarang. This preliminary event helped us to identify key issues relating to clean water access and sustainable water governance that have so far not received the government’s attention. Furthermore, it is the state institutions and corporates that widen the destructive processes of water resources and water bodies. It is vital that we be allowed to continue unimpeded in our efforts to build solutions and provide critical direction for policy change at the 2024 PWF in Denpasar.

As academics and human right defenders supporting the PWF, we call on public authorities and the Indonesian Arts Institute to uphold academic freedom through the following steps:

1.   Condemning all forms of threat, intimidation and prohibition that are carried by academic institutions, especially by security officers in the events organised by academicians, civil societies, including human right activists.

2.   Demanding the State (re: Government of Indonesia) to respect academic freedom, the freedom of speech and assembly for citizens, to give opinion, critiques and practice protesting acts towards development agenda. Specifically, on the issue of human right to water that is guaranteed by Indonesia’s Constitution;

3.   Demanding Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Right to process the violation of academic freedom, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly by the security officers as well as academic institutions in all its forms.

4.   Requesting the following organizations and institutions to watch and follow up this case:

a.   Atnike Nova Sigiro, National Commission on Human Rights, Republic of Indonesia

b.   Farida Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education

c.   Pedro Arrojo, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to safe drinking water and sanitation

d.   Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders

This statement was also published on The People’s Water Forum website.