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Indonesia - September 2019 Protests

High-profile changes to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) in September 2019 led to protests across the countrythe largest protest Indonesia had witnessed since 1998. It was relatively nonviolent as most of the protesters are students and the police are using mainly tear gas and water cannons to try and dispel them.

Following the passage of the new legislation governing the anti-corruption agency, protesters sprang into action, surprising Jokowi. More than 300 university students and police in Indonesia's capital, Jakarta were being treated in hospital on 24 September 2019, a day after violent clashes with police. Students held similar protests in cities around the country, including Bandung, Yogyakarta, Malang, Palembang and Medan. The demonstrators were already angry about other government proposals, which they considered anti-democratic, or highly-intrusive to their private lives. There were also other proposals pending that seek to revise the country's criminal code.

Conservative Islamic groups pushed earlier this year for an overhaul. Proposed changes would outlaw premarital sex, limit the sale of contraceptives, make it illegal to insult the president, and create prison terms for performing black magic or having an abortion that is not due to a medical emergency or rape. It would also strengthen blasphemy laws in the Muslim majority country.

These fresh riots were distinct from the May 2019 post-election riots in which ten people were killed. Indonesia's rights commission called on police to find the perpetrators, who it suspected were "actors trained, organised and professional in using guns". According to the report" The police used violence against children who joined the rally (in Jakarta) during which they said that they were beaten and kicked when arrested". In seperate protests, the West Papua National Committee and the United Liberation Movement for West Papua stirred mass protests in the Papuan provinces during August and September.

Previously the anti-corruption commission was already seen as more show than substance, a nominal way for Jakarta to claim it was fighting corruption. But the September change took the teeth out of the commission even further, reducing the amount of time it can investigate criminals, and requiring it to seek approvals from the president, which weakens its independence. Other grievances included concerns about environment and personal freedom. In response, Jokowi announced that he was considering revoking a new law that was passed on September 17 governing the country's anti-corruption agency. The Corruption Eradication Commission, known by its Indonesian initials, KPK, had prosecuted hundreds of politicians, officials and businessmen since it was established in 2002, becoming one of the country's most respected agencies. Corruption is endemic in Indonesia and the anti-corruption commission, one of the country's most effective institutions, has been attacked frequently by legislators who want to reduce its powers.

The new criminal code, which would replace a Dutch colonial-era set of laws. The bill also goes far beyond the issue of extra-marital sex. It covers 628 articles, including a proposal to penalise teachers of Marxist-Leninist ideology, as well as women who have abortions in the absence of a medical emergency or rape.

Police fired tear gas as the demonstrations descended into chaos, but protesters were expected to return to the streets. At least 300 people were hurt during nationwide protests last week, and a 21-year-old student died on 28 September 2019 after he was shot in the chest during a rally in Sulawesi. The rallies were not associated with a particular party or group and instead are led by students, who have often been a force for political change in Indonesia. It was their demonstrations in 1998 that helped lead to the downfall of former President Suharto who like many Indonesians only goes by one name.

Among the demonstrators' main grievances are the government's efforts to curb the powers of the anti-corruption commission, as well as a slew of other legislative proposals that they fear will curb freedom of expression, limit personal freedoms and harm the environment. The protests, said to be the largest in decades, came just as President Joko Widodo, also known as Jokowi, prepares to begin his second term in office beginning on October 20. Jokowi's top security official, Wiranto, claimed the protests were hijacked by a group aiming to disrupt parliament and the upcoming presidential inauguration. Observers said the ongoing protests could hurt the president's agenda for the next five years if he does not act decisively and address the concerns of the protesters.

The Communications and Information Ministry will restrict social media access during emergency situations, according to new minister Johnny G. Plate on October 30, 2019. The restriction of social media access during emergency situations was first imposed by former communications minister Rudiantara during post-election riots in May. It was imposed again during protests and unrest in Papua in August.

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Page last modified: 31-10-2019 16:44:13 ZULU