TEMPO/M Taufan Rengganis

Investigate massive police violence during nationwide rallies

Authorities in Indonesia must immediately initiate a thorough and impartial investigation into massive police violence against students during protests across the country, said Amnesty International Indonesia.  The organization also calls on the police to ensure people can exercise their right to protest peacefully.

Amnesty International Indonesia closely monitored the situation in Jakarta and other regions on 24 September and recorded several instances of police using unnecessary and excessive force, including against protesters.

“Once again we are seeing the police brutally beat protesters. The appalling scenes from 24 September remind us of how they handled the demonstrations that led to unrest in Jakarta on 21-22 May this year, during which members of the Police’s Mobile Brigade, often referred to as Brimob, used heavy-handed methods of crowd control. These are tantamount to excessive force, including hitting and kicking suspects who were already subdued,” said Amnesty International Indonesia’s Executive Director Usman Hamid.

Amnesty International acknowledges that some protesters engaged in acts such as vandalizing and damaging private and government properties, burning tires on the streets, or verbally insulting or throwing stones at the police.  However, the police must respect the right of peaceful protesters to demonstrate, while using force only as the last resort and no more than is strictly necessary, proportionate and lawful in response to the violence they are facing.  There is no justification for excessive force, and under no circumstance may any person be subjected to torture of other ill-treatment.

Thousands of students and activists took to the street in front of the parliament building in Jakarta on Tuesday, 24 September as part of nation-wide student-led rallies to demand that the parliament halt the enactment of various bills considered harmful to civil liberties and human rights in general, and annul the new amendment to the law on the Corruption Eradication Commission which they considered would weaken the Commission’s mandate.

A number of Amnesty International Indonesia staff were present during the Jakarta protest, which went on largely peacefully until a major clash between the police and the protesters ensued in the afternoon at around 16.30, after some began to shake and climb the parliament building’s gate to force their way in. The police deployed water cannons and launched tear gas against the crowd. Many of the protesters dispersed, and the police pursued the protesters to a number of locations including Palmerah train station in Central Jakarta.

An Amnesty International team was at the station as protesters rushed in, followed by police. The police outside fired tear gas,  panicking thousands of commuters, including a mother with an eight-month-old baby and several elderly people, within the extremely crowded station, which was an enclosed place. Dozens of people were rushed to hospitals to get medical assistance.

Teargas should not be used in confined spaces or where exits are blocked or restricted. Teargas, like other less-lethal weapons such as rubber bullets and pepper-ball projectiles, can cause serious injury and under some circumstances, death. When such weapons are deployed, it must be in strict compliance with the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality.  

The police arrested at least 94 protesters during and after the rally in Jakarta alone. Nationwide, there at least 255 protesters were arrested in Jakarta, Medan, Bandung, Makassar and Palembang. As of 26 September, it remains unclear whether the police have released or charged those arrested on the previous day.

Amnesty International monitored media coverage and reports from local organizations on casualties and verified the data with local police and hospitals, and found that there were at least 91 protesters and three journalists wounded in Jakarta thus far. A total of at least 242 people were wounded in Bogor, Bandung, Medan, Makassar, and Jakarta since 21 September. An Al-Azhar Indonesia University student was found in a critical condition on the street during the unrest. He is now in intensive care at Pelni Hospital in Jakarta.

One of the injured during the Jakarta rally was a protester who was surrounded and beaten by around eight police members at the compound of Jakarta Convention Center (JCC) building.  This incident was recorded and reported by local media; the video showing the victim screaming “please stop, please stop” while the beating continued.

“Such illegal methods in policing, including when protests turn heated, is a source of deep concern. It is crucial that authorities ensure an independent investigation into reports of officers using unnecessary or excessive force against protesters, or torturing protesters they arrested,” said Usman Hamid. “Reform within the police body is crucial if their members are to respect human rights in handling future demonstrations.”