Indonesia protests: Hundreds hurt in student-police clashes

Broken bones, head injuries reported after changes to anti-corruption agency fuelled mass protests across archipelago

Jakarta, Indone - Protest
Student protesters are drenched by police water cannon trucks during anti-corruption protests outside the parliament in Jakarta on Tuesday. Dozens were injured in the violence. [Tatan Syuflana/AP Photo]

More than 300 university students and police in Indonesia‘s capital, Jakarta were being treated in hospital on Wednesday, a day after violent clashes with police during nationwide protests triggered by a new law that critics say cripples the country’s anti-corruption agency.

Jakarta police chief Gatot Eddy Pramono told a news conference that at least 265 students and 39 police officers were treated in several hospitals in the country’s capital, with their injuries ranging from minor to serious.

He said police have arrested 94 people they alleged were involved in violent acts in protests that turned violent as darkness fell.

“We are still investigating whether they are students or other members of society with different interests,” Pramono said.

Officials at the city’s Pertamina Central Hospital said that 90 students were treated for injuries that included broken bones, head wounds and respiratory problems due to tear gas. Most were allowed to return home after treatment although three were hospitalised with head wounds.

Another student was undergoing surgery at Pelni, another hospital in Jakarta, after suffering bleeding in his brain and fractured shoulder bones.

The protest outside parliament on Tuesday saw police fire tear gas and water cannons to disperse thousands of rock-throwing students. The protest was dispersed just before midnight and by Wednesday morning, city officers were cleaning up rocks, plastic bottles, banners and other debris from the protest.

Students held similar protests in cities around the country on Tuesday, including Bandung, Yogyakarta, Malang, Palembang and Medan.

Several student groups promised to return to the streets on Wednesday and continue the demonstrations until the law is revoked.

Critics say the legislation, passed in Parliament last week, reduces the authority of the Corruption Eradication Commission, a key body in fighting endemic corruption in the country.

Indonesia protests
University students clash with police during a protest outside the local parliament building in Makassar in Indonesia’s South Sulawesi province, [Abriawan Abhe/Antara Foto via Reuters]

Pressure on Widodo

The fallout from the new law has threatened the credibility of President Joko Widodo, who recently won a second term in office after campaigning for clean governance. His inauguration is scheduled for next month.

Corruption is endemic in Indonesia and the anti-corruption commission, one of the most effective institutions in the country of nearly 270 million people, has been attacked frequently by legislators who want to reduce its powers.

Hundreds of officials from various branches of government have been arrested since the agency, which is independent, was established in 2002 as part of the reform demands that followed the overthrow of former strongman leader, Suharto.

Activists say the changes weaken one of Indonesia’s most credible public institutions in a country where the police and parliament are perceived as being widely corrupt.

The revisions also reduce its independence, with investigators becoming civil servants who need to be seconded from state bodies, including the police.

The new protests are not associated with a particular party or group, and instead are led by students, who have often been a force for political change. It was their demonstrations in 1998 that helped lead to Suharto’s downfall.

Those demonstrating this week are demanding that Widodo issue a government regulation replacing the new law.

The protesters also urged parliament to delay votes on a new criminal code that would criminalise or increase penalties on a variety of sexual activities, as well as other bills on mining, land and labour. Opponents say the proposed criminal code threatens democracy and discriminates against minorities.

On Tuesday, Widodo met legislators, whose terms finish at the end of this month, to urge them to delay votes on the bills after considering the level of public concern. They then delayed their votes on the proposed laws in their last plenary session.

Source: AP