Clashes in Jakarta as students rally again to protest moves to make major changes to laws

Clashes in Jakarta as students rally again to protest moves to make major changes to laws

Indonesia protest in Jakarta
A protester hurls rocks at police in Jakarta on Sep 25, 2019, during demonstrations against the government's proposed changes to its criminal code. (Photo: AFP / GOH CHAI HIN)

JAKARTA: About 200 students clashed with riot police in Indonesia's capital on Wednesday (Sep 25) as demonstrators hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at authorities who shot tear gas into the crowds.

It was the third day of protests against moves to introduce sweeping changes to the country's laws.

Demonstrations erupted in response to a proposed criminal-code overhaul that includes everything from criminalising pre-marital sex and restricting sales of contraceptives, to making it illegal to insult the president and toughening the country's blasphemy laws.

There has also been a public backlash against revisions to a separate law that critics fear would dilute the investigative powers of Indonesia's corruption-fighting agency - known as the KPK - including its ability to wire-tap graft suspects.

Indonesia protest Jakarta riot police
Indonesian riot police face off with protesters in Jakarta on Sept 25, 2019. (Photo: AFP/GOH CHAI HIN)

The rallies are among the biggest since 1998 when mass street protests led to the fall of former president Suharto's three-decade rule. 

Indonesia protest in Jakarta
A student gets medical treatment from exposure to tear gas in Jakarta on Sep 25, 2019. (Photo: AFP / GOH CHAI HIN)

On Tuesday, police fired tear gas and water cannon to break up rallies in Jakarta, Bandung and Makassar.

Jakarta police chief Gatot Eddy Pramono said 265 students and 39 police were injured on Tuesday, but the extent of their injures was not immediately clear.

He added that 94 people were arrested in Jakarta where skirmishes continued late into the night. Some of those detained had carried petrol bombs, he told reporters.

READ: Indonesia police fire tear gas as protesters rally against graft law, Bill banning pre-marital sex

Pramono said police are investigating the role of non-student groups in the protests, but he did not give details.

"If it is proven that they caused damage, whether to the cars or fences, or civilians or security forces, we will take strict measures against them and start the legal process," Pramono said, referring to fences damaged around parliament.

The Jakarta-based University of Al Azhar said in a statement that one of its students was in a critical condition after taking part in protests on Tuesday. A hospital official said the student had sustained injuries to his head and collarbone.

University students protest outside the Indonesian Parliament in Jakarta
Demonstrators allow an ambulance to pass during university students' protest outside the Indonesian Parliament in Jakarta, Indonesia Sep 24, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan)

Aside from opposing the proposed criminal code, students also want a ban on military or police personnel taking up public posts, and the release of "Papuan political prisoners", referring to the remote Papua region hit by civil unrest in recent weeks.

The students also called for stepped up prevention of forest fires blamed for causing haze, and a renewed effort to address human rights issues.

Indonesia protest
Student protesters shout slogans during a rally in Surabaya, East Java province, on Sep 25, 2019. (Photo: AFP / JUNI KRISWANTO)

Thousands of students held fresh protests on Wednesday in cities such as Gorontalo on the island of Sulawesi, as well as Surabaya in Java, local media reported. They also stormed a building in Padang in west Sumatra.

READ: It's not only about sex: Indonesia's divisive criminal Bill

A vote on the criminal code Bill was originally scheduled for Tuesday.

But President Joko Widodo last week called for a delay in passing controversial changes that could affect millions of Indonesians, including gay and heterosexual couples who might face jail for having sex outside wedlock, or having an affair.

Updating Indonesia's criminal code, which dates back to the Dutch colonial era, has been debated for decades and appeared set to pass in 2018 before momentum fizzled out.

Source: Agencies/gs