Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Indonesian police crack down on protests against controversial laws

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Plans to reform the penal code and the anti-corruption agency have sparked a wave of protest for two days.

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Demonstration in Makassar, on the island of Celebes, September 24. ANDRI SAPUTRA / AFP

Police used tear gas on Tuesday (September 24th) against students demonstrating in front of the Indonesian parliament in Jakarta, according to an AFP journalist, while several cities have been witnessing a wave of protests against controversial laws for two days.

Thousands of students took to the streets with banners and signs in several major cities to protest against measures that could weaken the anti-corruption agency (KPK) and against a revision of the penal code seen as a libido .

Prohibit "insults" against the president

In Jakarta, police tried to disperse tear gas and water cannons with protesters who lit fires and damaged the barriers surrounding the parliament. No less than 20,000 police and soldiers were deployed in the capital to secure sensitive sites, including the presidential palace. In Makassar, capital of the island of Celebes, the demonstrations degenerated into clashes with anti-riot forces.

MEPs were debating on Tuesday a series of drastic revisions to the criminal code, including prison sentences for sex outside marriage or same sex.

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The fact of "Show or offer" means of contraception to minors would become illegal. The draft text also provides for broader application of the controversial blasphemy law and plans to ban "Insults" to the president or vice-president.

But in front of a concert of protests by citizens and defenders of rights, the head of state, Joko Widodo, asked last week that the review of the text be postponed to the next parliamentary session. MEPs endorsed this postponement on Tuesday 23 September.

The revision of the Penal Code, which dates from the Dutch colonial era, has been under discussion for several decades. She had already been pushed back last year.

Conservative turning

The efforts of conservative Muslim groups to toughen the criminal code on aspects of sexual morality have been sharply criticized by human rights defenders and many citizens of this country of 260 million people.

Long shown as an example of tolerance between the different religions and cultures of the archipelago, Indonesia has taken a more conservative turn under the influence of traditionalist Muslim movements.

The protests also call into question Joko Widodo's credibility about the fight against corruption, while he was re-elected in April after campaigning on the theme of transparency.

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