Indonesians sew mouths shut in protest over deforestation

Twenty-eight Indonesians took an extreme measure this week to protest against deforestation on their island — they sewed their mouths shut.


An illegal logger prepares to cut trees from a tropical rain forest in Riau province, Sumatra, Indonesia. (Ulet Ifansasti/GETTY IMAGES)

The protesters say the deforestation would affect more than 37 percent of the island’s total area, threaten the environment and hurt the small-scale agriculture they depend on, environmental news site MongaBay reports.

Indonesia has the world's third-largest forest area, and one of the world's fastest rates of deforestation.

The paper company that acquired the permit, Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP), told the Globe that it would leave the land if the islanders could prove it was “customary land,” or land owned by indigenous communities.

RAPP president commissioner Tony Wenas also told the Globe that he doubted the seriousness of the islanders, saying: “For all we know, there are ex-cons among the protesters.”

Because their mouths are sewn shut, the islanders have not eaten since their protest began and many are facing weakening health, according to BNO News. But they have vowed to continue their strike until the permit for RAPP is revoked.

On Wednesday, House Speaker Marzuki Alie urged protesters to unsew their mouths, promising that the House would work with regional governments to solve the problem.

Earlier this year, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed a bill to preserve the remaining tropical forests and biodiversity. It is unclear how much impact the bill has had.

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