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Violence outside Indonesian parliament as new MPs are sworn in

Sydney Morning Herald - October 1, 2019

James Massola and Karuni Rompies, Jakarta – Heavily-armed security forces stood guard in front of Indonesia's parliament on Tuesday as thousands of protesters attempted to disrupt the swearing in of 575 MPs.

The new slate of MPs, who were elected in the April 17 poll, enter Parliament amid weeks of protests across the country over proposed changes to the country's penal code, agrarian and mining laws that have been delayed, the passing of a law that critics argue has weakened the national anti-corruption commissions, forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra, and violence in Papua.

National police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on Tuesday that "we expect around 5000 students will be on the streets today. But we will stop them going near the parliament building".

He said it was likely the protests would continue into the evening and potentially turn violent, as they had on Monday evening and last week. "Usually it's other people, not students, who are protesting in the evening," he added.

At least three protesters have died during the protests across the country and hundreds of people have been injured.

Hundreds of protesters set tyres on fire and threw rocks, firecrackers and petrol bombs at police during the clashes on Monday evening near the Parliament, in suburban south Jakarta. The police responded with water cannons and tear gas.

Similar clashes occurred in other Indonesian cities, including in West Java's Bandung city; in Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi province; and in President Joko Widodo's hometown of Solo city in Central Java – where an angry mob threw rocks at police, injuring at least four female officers in the head.

Before the protests turned violent students and trade union activists had gathered outside the parliament chanting "Reformasi Dikorupsi" (reform corrupted), a reference to the political reforms that swept Indonesia and brought democracy after the fall of dictator Soeharto in 1998.

Budi Luhur University students Samudra and Aleka said they wanted the President to drop the penal code bill, rather than just delaying it for debate by the new slate of MPs who will be sworn in.

"We reject all bills that are irrelevant and illogical," Samudra said, pointing out that for example "homeless people will be fined because wandering around will not be allowed any more".

"The government made ridiculous policies, regulating some unimportant issues. For instance, if someone's pet goes into his or her neighbour's garden, the pet's owner will be fined with Rp10 million ($1000). This is insane, it's so insignificant," Aleka said.

"I think a bylaw is sufficient for such trivial issues, don't put it into a penal code. Millions of ordinary people are not aware of these things. That's why we are here, to reject all bills such as the penal code, KPK [anti-corruption commission] laws and other bills."

President Joko last week said he would consider issuing a perppu – a presidential directive that can override a law passed by Parliament – to stop the legal changes to the KPK being implemented. That suggestion came after the President had asked the outgoing Parliament to halt in its rush to pass the penal code changes.

The President had previously indicated support for the corruption commission law changes, and for the penal code.

Humans Rights Watch Indonesia researcher Andreas Harsono said the protesters had already had an impact by forcing the delay to the penal code and other bills being passed, and that protests were spreading throughout the country.

"The protests are in major cities across the country, almost all provincial capitals," he said.

"The demands are not easy to meet. How do you demilitarise Papua? How do you bring corporations to court [for the forest fires] when many of the plantations are owned by proxy after proxy company?"

"There is some low hanging fruit for Jokowi. For example, issuing the perppu on the KPK."

And in an unusual move UNICEF, the United Nation's Children's fund, issued a statement on Tuesday calling for "all parties to protect children against violence and uphold their right to express themselves in a safe environment".

The organisation highlighted special provisions in Indonesia's criminal justice system that stipulate deprivation of liberty and imprisonment are a last resort, that children under 18 can be detained for no more than 24 hours, have access to a lawyer, and have to be kept separately from adults.

Many of the protesters involved in the protests across the country have been school children.

– With agencies

Source: https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/violence-outside-indonesian-parliament-as-new-mps-are-sworn-in-20191001-p52wks.html