Group aiming to disrupt parliament behind student protests in Indonesia, says national police chief Tito Karnavian

Police have fired tear gas and water cannon to break up rallies in Jakarta and other cities against proposed new laws

Reuters September 26, 2019 17:22:19 IST
Group aiming to disrupt parliament behind student protests in Indonesia, says national police chief Tito Karnavian
  • Recent 'brutal' student protests in Indonesia were hijacked by a group with the aim of disrupting parliament

  • Police have fired tear gas and water cannon to break up rallies in Jakarta and other cities against proposed new laws

  • Tens of thousands have joined the biggest rallies since 1998 student protests fueled unrest that led to the fall of former strongman leader Suharto

Jakarta: Recent “brutal” student protests in Indonesia were hijacked by a group with the aim of disrupting parliament and the inauguration of president Joko Widodo next month for a new term, the chief security minister said on Thursday.

Group aiming to disrupt parliament behind student protests in Indonesia says national police chief Tito Karnavian

File image of Indonesia chief security minister Wiranto. Reuters

Police have fired tear gas and water cannon to break up rallies in Jakarta and other cities against proposed new laws, including a revised criminal code that would ban extramarital sex and penalize insulting the president’s honor. Tens of thousands have joined the biggest rallies since 1998 student protests fueled unrest that led to the fall of former strongman leader Suharto.

“The brutal demonstrations perpetrated by rioters, fighting against officers, throwing rocks, shooting fireworks at the officers at night ... they were trying to make victims,” chief security minister Wiranto told a news conference.

Rather than seek to change government policies peacefully, the demonstrators tried to occupy the upper house “with the end goal being to stop the president and vice president from being inaugurated” and disrupt the country, Wiranto said.

Widodo is due to be sworn in for a second term in office on 20 October after winning this year’s general election. Wiranto did not name the group he said was manipulating the protests, but he described an effort to get radical Islamic groups, soccer supporters and labor groups to join the rallies.

Authorities have arrested at least 200 people since the rallies began on Monday, and they were not all students, national police chief Tito Karnavian told the news conference. “When we asked them what their motives were, they weren’t sure. There were those who received some money to be there,” he said.

The recent unrest appeared to have been orchestrated in a similar manner to riots that broke out in Jakarta in May after Widodo’s re-election was confirmed, Karnavian said. Eight people were killed and more than 900 injured when rallies by supporters of defeated presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto turned violent, with police using tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon to quell the unrest.

Widodo has delayed parliament’s vote on the proposed legislation, which would replace a Dutch colonial-era set of laws, saying a new parliament should review the bill next month. While the proposed ban on extra-marital sex has grabbed headlines abroad, the bill covers 628 articles in total and opposition in the country of 260 million people is based on a much wider set of concerns than sex.

The bill also penalizes people who criticize the president’s honor; teachers of Marxist-Leninist ideology; and women who have abortions in the absence of a medical emergency or rape. Students also oppose changes to a law governing the anti-graft agency, known by its initials KPK, and the appointment of new agency commissioners that critics say will weaken the fight against corruption.

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