The experience in Indonesia (November 16-18) was harrowing. I was invited to the country by Greenpeace Southeast Asia to report on the destruction of the Sumatran forests.
Three days before I reached Indonesia, Greenpeace activists had clashed with officials of APRIL, one of largest pulp and paper companies in the country, at the NGO’s climate defenders’ camp, Tilak Meranti, a five-hour drive from Riau province capital Pekanbaru.
On Monday afternoon we (some activists and journalists) started our journey from Pekanbaru to Tilak Meranti.
In the course of our journey, we were told to go to the police station. As we entered, we learnt that we would be interrogated.
“Hello, I am Abhimanyu, Hindu name, but I am Muslim. I served in the UN peacekeeping force in Bosnia and have many Indian friends,” one of the interrogators said to me.
Then he came and sat next to me for a photograph. I objected but was told that it was an “official procedure”. I had no other choice but to accede to this strange request.
I realised that I was caught in a crossfire of sorts between Greenpeace on the one side and powerful companies and the government on the other.
I said I had a media visa and was on an invitation. I was in no way connected with Greenpeace.
The questioning went on for 45 minutes: why I was there, what I intended to do, and so on.
“You should have a permit,” one of them said. Which permit, to date, we don’t know.
Then suddenly they called it off and apologised. “I hope you understand why we need to talk to you at length.”
We were let off, but only for the night. They told us to come again by 8 am the next day.
We were told the next day to proceed to the immigration office in Pekanbaru, an hour’s drive from the police station.
Meanwhile, in Jakarta the police chief had given a press conference. We were to be deported and his reasons varied: that we were “about to undertake an illegal activity”, our “association with illegal activities”, and so on.
Then we went to the immigration office, as directed, and pushed and shoved our way to a senior immigration official’s office. We demanded an explanation for this treatment.
Meanwhile, Greenpeace issued a statement questioning our deportation.
At last, there was some good news. We could leave the immigration office but our passports would be held back. We were asked to leave Pekanbaru the next morning itself. There will be no “deportation” stamp on our passports but we would be “escorted” out of the country by immigration officials.
Another round of protests followed but was of no use.
We took a flight to Jakarta. Later in the day, I was taken to the airport and after a quick immigration procedure, which almost felt like a personalised service, I was “escorted” out of Jakarta.