The last few years have seen some significant milestones crossed in the campaign to protect Indonesia’s forests and establish a sustainable and legal timber industry. No-one could have missed the palm oil campaigns, or the efforts to highlight the impact of pulp and paper companies. New rules in Europe, the US and elsewhere will make it harder to trade in illegally harvested timber. Even the Indonesian government, supported by richer donor countries, introduced a moratorium earlier this year on new concessions located on primary rainforest and peatland.

While none of these developments is perfect they are a signal that the efforts of local communities, campaigners, industry and government are starting to bear fruit.

Which is why recent moves by Indonesia’s authorities are all the more worrying. Last month my executive director John Sauven was turned away at Indonesia’s passport control for supposedly representing a threat to the national interest. Despite his being a staunch supporter of the Indonesian president’s commitment to protecting its forests and peatlands it appears his arrival made the authorities a little nervous.

Sauven had been due to join local colleagues who have been documenting the continued deforestation by Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) over the past 18 months.

Around that time pressure started to increase on the Greenpeace office in Jakarta, where claims have been made that it was not correctly registered and that it was in an area exclusively zoned for residential properties. The office is on a street where numerous other offices, restaurants and cafés are present.

While this development is no doubt welcomed by opponents such as APP, it has potentially profound implications for the work of NGOs exposing problems in the legality or sustainability of timber products coming from Indonesia.

With the new EU Timber Regulation on the horizon and the signing of the new Voluntary Partnership Agreement between Indonesia and the EU, it is in everyone’s interest to ensure that civil society groups in Indonesia are able to raise a flag when rules are being broken or when rainforests end up in the supply chains of multi-national companies.

Even Indonesia’s new SVLK legality standard recognises the importance of the watchdog role that NGOs play in ensuring that companies keep to the rules.

A number of contacts within the timber industry already openly admit that they steer well clear of Indonesian timber products because of current risks. These latest signs of an increased clampdown on NGO watchdogs will do little to improve Indonesia’s reputation as a source of legal and sustainable timber products.

With the Indonesian president openly pledging to dedicate his remaining years in office to protecting Indonesia’s forests, the situation is delicately poised. It looks increasingly unlikely that the president’s ambitious plans to protect forests and set industry on a more sustainable path can succeed unless companies like APP start to genuinely reform their practices. If they don’t, then the future for what is left of Sumatra’s rainforests and for species like the Sumatran tiger looks very bleak.