The Indonesian authorities must immediately, independently, impartially and effectively investigate police use of unlawful force during the protests surrounding the Omnibus Law on Job Creation, said Amnesty International Indonesia today.
Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab and Digital Verification Corps worked with Amnesty Indonesia to verify 51 videos depicting 43 separate incidents of violence by Indonesian police during protests that occurred between 6 October and 10 November 2020.
“Our examination of these incidents shows that police forces across Indonesia have committed appalling human rights violations,” said Usman Hamid, Executive Director at Amnesty International Indonesia.
“When protesters took to the streets in cities across Indonesia to demand the annulment of the new law, they were overwhelmingly met with unlawful force, including beatings, torture and other ill-treatment in a flagrant disregard for the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.”
Previous monitoring work by Amnesty International Indonesia documented at least 411 victims of police use of force in 15 provinces during the protests. The organization has also recorded 6658 people arrested in 21 provinces. Based on a report from a joint advocacy team, 301 of them detained incommunicado for various durations, including 18 journalists that have been released.
Our monitoring data also shows that online omnibus protests were met by intimidation. During 7-20 October 2020, we recorded 18 people in seven provinces were charged under offences contained in the Electronic Information and Transaction (ITE) Law. None of them has been convicted. This is a law that frequently used to silence critics. The ITE Law, which governs information on the internet, contains vague language which has been misused by the government to criminalize freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion in Indonesia.
“There has been overwhelming video and testimony of police violence since day one of these protests This has sinister echoes of the brutal crackdowns against students 22 years ago, at the end of the Soeharto regime. The authorities should heed the lesson of the past: the people will not be scared away from exercising their human rights,” said Usman.
One important thing to note from the verified videos is that the presence of many plainclothes police during the protests. Some of them were also inciting violence and conducting arrests. According to the General Comment 37 of The UN Human Rights Committee, the use of plainclothes officers in assemblies must be strictly necessary in the circumstances. They are not allowed to incite violence, and before carrying out any arrests, they need to identify themselves to the persons concerned.
The interactive map below shows the incidents which Amnesty International Indonesia has verified:
Unlawful use of batons, sticks and other forms of beatings
Of the 51 videos Amnesty International Indonesia verified, at least half contain evidence of unlawful use of batons, sticks and other forms of beatings. In the following video from Bekasi, West Java, dated 7 October, one person – identified as Pelita Bangsa University student – was dragged from the crowd and continuously hit by some police members. In the background, the firing of tear gas canisters can be heard.
Suhendar is the head of Student Executive Bodies of Pelita Bangsa University. He was the protest coordinator on the day and witnessed violence against at least six of his friends. He told Amnesty that his friends got mild to severe injuries as a result of the beatings.
“I saw six, eight [orally estimating] or ten friends beaten up by a lot of police. In the viral video we see clearly how it went. On the day, we had to take them to hospital because some got pretty serious injuries and needed intensive care,” said Suhendar.
In Bandung, West Java, Amnesty talked to Jerry*, a paramedic who got kicked and hit by the police while he was on duty.
“I was helping a protester [when] suddenly some plainclothes police members were approaching us from behind the ambulance. Shouting to us ‘What are you doing here?’ and hitting us with their stick. I told them ‘I’m a paramedic Sir, please don’t hit me’, but they just ignored me. I reckoned four or five people were beating me,” he told Amnesty International Indonesia.
In the two following videos, police members in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, are seen trying to apprehend a protester inside a shopping center. In the next, police members in Yogyakarta hit a protester with batons in the middle of a street.
*Melki, a photographer with a national media in Surabaya, East Java, was trying to record police attacking multiple protesters when he was suddenly approached by at least five police officers.
“Five or six people tried to grab my cellphone. I resisted, they threatened me. They grabbed it again, and it almost fell but, luckily, I caught it in time. I said ‘I’m a journalist I can report you to the press council and advocacy groups. A senior officer saw this incident and instructed his officers to step back.”
The Alliance of Independent Journalists has recorded 56 instances of violence against journalists documenting protests between 7 and 21 October 2020. Malang, East Java, saw the highest share of such incidences, with 15 cases of journalists attacked by security forces.
In the CCTV record – owned by Islamic University of Bandung (Unisba), West Java – the police can be seen hitting the campus’ security officer.
Media reported that a day after the event, the University sent an official complaint to the police Responding to the complaint, the Head of Bandung City Police, Ulung Sampurna Jaya, had argued that his members were trying to disperse the crowd and the chase brought them into campus area. He insisted that the protesters were the ones who triggered violence and destruction.
In Padang Sidempuan, North Sumatera, police members can be seen using their batons against students who were peacefully standing in front of a building.
“These incidents show that police methods are not keeping people safe – and are violating international standards. Authorities must urgently establish the facts in a prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigation,” said Usman.
International law and standards are clear that force must not be used to punish the non-compliance with an order nor simply for the participation in an assembly. Where the use of batons and similar impact equipment is unavoidable, law enforcement officers must have clear orders to avoid causing serious injury and that vital parts of the body be excluded as target zones.
Improper use of tear gas and water cannon
The UN Human Rights Committee are clear in their General Comment 37that “Only in exceptional cases may an assembly be dispersed. Dispersal may be resorted to if the assembly as such is no longer peaceful, or if there is clear evidence of an imminent threat of serious violence that cannot be reasonably addressed by more proportionate measures such as targeted arrests, but in all cases the law enforcement rules on use of force must be strictly followed.”
When a lawful decision has been taken to disperse an assembly, the order must be clearly communicated and explained, to obtain, as far as possible, the understanding and compliance of the demonstrators. Additionally, sufficient time must also be given to disperse.
Even where an order to disperse is lawfully provided, the use of teargas and water cannon will only be proportionate in responding to incidence of widespread violence, and only where other methods of dispersing an assembly have failed or would fail. A clear warning must always be given.
However, in the following verified videos police can be seen using tear gas canisters and water cannons in complete breach of the above international standards.
The type of equipment used to disperse an assembly must be carefully considered and used only when necessary, proportional and lawful. Policing and security equipment – such as rubber bullets and tear gas, often described as “less-lethal” weapons – can result in serious injury and even death.
In Bandung, *Afif, a student, was walking up to his motorbike, parked along the local House of Representative building when plainclothes police approached him. He was interrogated and his cellphone was briefly examined. The police took him inside the House building, where hundreds of other protesters were likewise detained.
“I haven’t spoken up, yet they arrested me. They slapped me and kicked me. And then I saw around twenty people undergo the same violence. Some of them were crying. I had no idea what’s going on as I was prevented from contacting anyone at that time.”
*Tyo, a protester from Bandung, West Java, told Amnesty upon his detention. He was running away from tear gas shooting when the police arrested him. He was later brought to the police station without letting anyone knows of his whereabout. Sitting with hundreds of protesters, he felt helpless.
“I spent the night at the police station, No one visited me. I couldn’t contact anybody.” He was released a day after the arrest.
Detention without access to the outside world – incommunicado detention – facilitates torture or other ill-treatment and enforced disappearance. Depending on the circumstances, it can itself constitute torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
Arrest and detention should be carried out only in accordance with procedures established by law. They should not be used as means to prevent peaceful participation in a public assembly nor as a means of punishment for participation.
Torture and other ill-treatment
Amnesty Indonesia has verified videos showing torture and other ill-treatment against the protesters.
In Samarinda, East Kalimantan, a protester was improperly dragged by plainclothes police in front of the Local House of Representative building.
In Cirebon, West Java, dozens of detained protesters were stripped from their top clothes and had to lie down under the sun.
In many of the videos verified by Amnesty International protestors were humiliated by being forced to walk in a ‘duck march’ squatting as they walk. In a number of videos protestors were beaten, sometimes unconscious.
Indonesia is a state party to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the prohibition of torture is set out in the country’s Constitution. There is also an absolute prohibition on torture and degrading treatment under customary international law.
The Indonesia’s House of Representative has passed the Omnibus Law on Job Creation on 5 October 2020. Since its early introduction, widespread protests have erupted around the country in response to these proposed reforms. Amnesty International Indonesia has criticized many of its provisions for their negative impact on human rights.
*Several names have been changed to protect identities