Indonesia students rally again to protest major changes to laws

Students carry a fence to be burned as they clash with police during a protest near the Indonesian parliament building in Jakarta September 25, 2019 — Picture by Antara Foto via Reuters.
Students carry a fence to be burned as they clash with police during a protest near the Indonesian parliament building in Jakarta September 25, 2019 — Picture by Antara Foto via Reuters.

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JAKARTA, Sept 25 — Indonesian students today rallied for a third day over moves to introduce sweeping changes to the country’s laws after hundreds were sent to hospital following clashes with riot police.

The 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 Muslim majority country’s blasphemy laws.

There has also been a public backlash against a separate bill 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.

“This bill will obviously weaken the KPK and cause corruption to run rampant—and that’s going to hurt people,” Angga Prasetyo, a 22-year-old engineering student in protest-hit Makassar on Sulawesi island, told AFP on Wednesday.

The rallies are among the biggest anti-government demonstrations since 1998 when mass street protests brought down the three-decade Suharto dictatorship.

Students have issued a list of demands including scrapping some of the criminal-code changes, withdrawing troops from Indonesia’s unrest-hit Papua region, and halting forest fires in Sumatra and Borneo that have unleashed toxic haze across Southeast Asia.

Hundreds rallied in the capital Jakarta—as did scores in the second-biggest city Surabaya, and in Borneo yesterday—but the crowds were smaller than the thousands who took to the streets nationwide the previous day.

On Tuesday, police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters in chaotic scenes that saw about 300 people—including dozens of officers—sent to hospital for treatment with hundreds arrested, according to police officials. Most had minor injuries, authorities said.

A vote on the criminal code bill was originally scheduled for yesterday.

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.

A renewed push this year, backed by conservative Islamic groups, was met with a wave of criticism over what many saw as a draconian law that invaded the bedrooms of a nation with some 260 million people—the fourth most populous on Earth. — AFP

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