Largest protests since 1998 shake Indonesia

Tens of thousands joined mass protests across Indonesia in September—the largest the country has seen since the movement in 1998 that brought down the dictator Suharto. Police have used heavy repression. Five people have died and several hundred have been injured and arrested.

The protests were triggered by revisions to the Law on the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and a draft bill revising the criminal code.

The KPK was set up in the post-Suharto period and has achieved convictions against high-profile members of the police, politicians and businesspeople. The government is now seeking to weaken it.

The revised criminal code includes a swathe of anti-democratic clauses. If passed, it will criminalise insulting the president, vice-president or government, spreading communist or Marxist teachings, vagrancy and premarital sex. It will also further criminalise abortion and blasphemy.

Other laws including the mining law, the manpower law and the land law are also facing changes. The revisions will give incentives to investors while weakening the rights of labour and agrarian activists.

The revisions reflect the growing strength of the right in Indonesia. The Jokowi government is pursuing these revisions while refusing to move on draft laws on the elimination of sexual violence and the protection of domestic workers.

Protestors are also demanding the government ban the Indonesian military and police personnel from holding civilian offices, end the militarism in Papua and release political prisoners, end the prosecution of activists, stop the fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra and punish the corporations responsible for them, and put human rights violators on trial.

The demonstrations have largely been coordinated by the student movement. Some unions and agrarian organisations have joined them. However, the presidents of the major union confederations KSPI and KSPSI have failed to support the protests. They opportunistically hope to secure the Manpower Minister position in the upcoming cabinet.

The demonstrations have forced the government to delay discussions on the revision of the laws. The students want President Jokowi to issue a government regulation to annul the law on the KPK but his coalition in parliament have said they will not support this.

Students are planning further protests during Jokowi’s inauguration for his second term as president.

By Vivian Honan


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