Konradus Epa, Jakarta – The Indonesian police have issued a new set of guidelines on how protests should be handled following criticism that officers use excessive force against demonstrators.
The announcement by National Police Chief General Listyo Sigit on Sept. 16 instructed officers to show more restraint, was welcomed by Church and rights groups.
It came after police came under fire for adopting a heavy-handed approach towards protesters who greeted President Joko Widodo noisily during several official visits he made recently around the country.
The criticisms were the latest in a long line of complaints about how police act at protests.
They include ones from media groups who claimed abuses were committed by police against nearly 30 journalists covering nationwide protests in October last year against a controversial anti-jobs creation law.
The new guidelines announced this week stipulate that police should show restraint and not look to quickly break up protests if there is no threat to public order. People do have the right to protest, officers were told.
They also called for better communications between police and protesters so that misunderstandings do not lead to violence or human rights abuses.
It was not clear what punishments would be meted out against officers who failed to follow these guidelines.
Beka Ulung Hapsara of the National Commission of Human Rights (Komnas HAM) backed the order saying it was a victory for common sense. "Such regulations should have been introduced long ago," Hapsara told UCA News.
Benediktus Papa, chairman of the Union of Catholic University Students of the Republic of Indonesia (PMKRI), said such a policy commitment would show the police and the government respects democracy.
"The police, like anyone else, should respect others, including students who criticize the government," Bapa said.
He said he only hoped "police stick to this policy which should itself be policed strictly."
"We will certainly be monitoring the commitment of the police in protecting democracy," he said.