Government of Indonesia suppresses Freedom of Assembly and Expression - Water for Profit?

The full arsenal of government repression of peaceful gatherings is being applied against members of the national and global water justice movements, trying to meet in Bali this week. The main reason is that the government of Indonesia is prioritising the influx of foreign investment in all sectors and regions of the country. 

The triennial World Water Forum is meeting this week in Bali. This event is organised by the World Water Council, which is led by private, for-profit corporations, traditionally supported by the World Bank, intent on facilitating market-driven approaches to all water issues. The potential profits from water are immeasurable. 

PSI and EPSU are members of regional and global water justice networks resisting the privatisation of water sources and services.  We organise meetings in parallel with the World Water Forum events to express our concerns about the for-profit policies being advanced.  We are organised as the People’s Water Forum (PWF).


UN rapporteur Pedro Arrojo assaulted in Bali as he tried to enter the hotel where the People's Water Forum was being held.

People's Water Forum - UN rapporteur Pedro Arrojo assaulted in Bali

The government of Indonesia, no doubt prompted by the concerns of the World Water Council, has unfolded the full panoply of repressive tools to ensure that the local and global water justice movements are unable to meet. In doing so, the government has succeeded in drawing even more attention to the existence of our movements and our concerns. 

Regrettably, these repressive actions are being replicated by governments across the world, in attempts to silence debate and dissent. Regardless, we will not be silenced, we will not be paralysed.

The specific actions of the Indonesian government include:

  • Intelligence officers visiting the homes of Indonesian organisers of the PWF for the past ten days to attempt to intimidate them into stopping their organising.

  • Border and intelligence officials questioning all foreign members travelling to the PWF – the intelligence apparatus knows who we are, is very well informed.  The World Water Council and its allies also know who we are.  Where possible, travel visas were delayed and denied. 

  • Intelligence officials visiting the homes and coercing and intimidating university officials to cancel all pre-arranged PWF meeting and guest-house facilities on the university campus.  The Ministry of Education, Culture, Research and Technology eventually instructed the university to cancel the event or postpone until the World Water Forum ended.[i] 

  • Intelligence officials visiting hotels to ensure that PWF would be unable to find any venues or lodging. 

  • Hacking of social media accounts, websites and registration links to the PWF. 

  • Once the PWF meetings started, having found a meeting venue and lodging, a paramilitary group known as Patriot Garuda Nusantara (PGN) invaded the press conference, violently tore banners down, shut off electricity in the meeting room and effectively blocked the press conference.

  • This same group invaded the hotel where 40 Indonesian social movements were housed, confined them to the premises and blocked all access to them, including deliveries of food. Pedro Arrojo, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation arrived at the hotel, he was met by a cordon of police officers.  When Pedro showed his UN passport, the head of the police cordon indicated that he should speak to what appears to be a group of the PGN.  Pedro was denied entry and forcibly ejected from the premises of the hotel which was effectively under blockade.  

Danny Bertossa, PSI General Secretary said,

“On behalf of the 700 unions which represent more than 30 million women and men working across all public services in more than 150 countries, I express our collective outrage that the Government of Indonesia and the Government of Bali colluded to suppress fundamental human rights to free speech and assembly.  The fight for the human right to water is a fight for life, for democracy, for climate justice, for dignity and equity.  We won’t stand idly by while corporate powers make yet another attempt to increase their control over the planet’s resources, over our democratic institutions and our communities.”

Jan Willem Goudriaan, EPSU General Secretary said,

“The fact that the Indonesian government fails to protect the UN Rapporteur for the human right to water is an international scandal. We are concerned the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has not spoken out to defend the UN Rapporteur.   Almost two million Europeans supported the Human Right to water in the first ever European Citizens Initiative (ECI) ten years ago and Mr Arrojo was a member of the ECI citizens committee. He has a longstanding record of peaceful promotion of the Human Right to water. The EU and international community must act to protect the right to assembly and expression of local and international water activists in Indonesia and elsewhere.”

[i] See statement of Indonesian academics :