In the past few days, Indonesia has been witnessing its largest student movement since that of 1998, which brought down then-president Soeharto. The student protests made headlines not only in the national media, but also in international news outlets.
Many Indonesian readers of foreign media outlets, however, expressed their exasperation over the titles of the articles in various news outlets, which often focused only on the fact that the contentious Criminal Code (RKUHP) bill could criminalize premarital sex. The BBC, Deutsche Welle, The Japan Times, Al Jazeera, Reuters, The Sydney Morning Herald and CNN are among the outlets publishing articles implying that Indonesians were only protesting about a “sex before marriage” bill as the BBC put it, or a “sex ban law” as The Japan Times called it.
Not just sex
The revision of the RKUHP is only one among several problematic bills the students are protesting against and the criminalization of pre- and extramarital sex is the least of several concerns regarding the bill.
The students have seven demands in total encompassing several issues. Political scientist Amalinda Savirani from Gadjah Mada University said despite some criticisms of the movement’s many demands, the varied nature of those demands could help the movement gain followers and momentum.
Here are the seven demands:
– Reject Criminal Code bill, mineral mining bill, land bill, correctional procedures bill and labor bill; revoke KPK Law and Natural Resources Law; pass sexual violence bill and domestic workers bill.
– Remove problematic KPK leaders picked by House of Representatives.
– Ban Indonesian Military (TNI) and National Police personnel from holding civilian offices.
– End militarism in Papua and other regions and immediately free Papuan political prisoners.
– End prosecution of activists.
– End burning of forests in Kalimantan and Sumatra and punish corporations responsible for fires and revoke their permits.
– Resolve human rights violations and put human rights violators on trial, including those at the highest levels of government; immediately restore rights of victims.
Student protester demands. (JP/File)
The RKUHP contains several contentious articles, not just the article on criminalizing extramarital sex. If passed, the new Criminal Code can make crimes out of freedom of speech, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights, sexual reproduction rights and even homelessness. Several articles regulate against “attacking the dignity” of the president or vice president and publishing or broadcasting materials that contain “insults against the legitimate government”.
The repeal of the newly passed Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) Law also tops the priority list. Before it was passed, activists and experts had criticized the bill and urged President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to intervene and save the antigraft body. The new KPK Law strips the KPK off of its independence through the establishment of a supervisory body and the conversion of the KPK into a government agency.
The protesters also demand that the House pass the sexual violence bill, which has been deliberated over since 2016. Many lawmakers are against the bill, calling it “liberal” and arguing that the bill would legalize zina (extramarital sex).
Problematic KPK leaders
On Sept. 12, the House elected five KPK leaders out of the 10 candidates shortlisted by a selection committee. The selection of the new KPK commissioners, who are to begin their work in December, has been controversial from the start, with activists calling the selection committee biased. Some of the candidates are also deemed “problematic”, including Insp. Gen. Firli Bahuri from the National Police, who was voted in as the KPK’s new chairman.
Not long after his inauguration in September 2018, KPK received a complaint regarding Firli. He had been meeting with West Nusa Tenggara Governor M. Zainul Majdi, also known as Tuan Guru Bajang, who was then being questioned as a witness in a corruption case pertaining to the divestment of gold and copper mining company PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara.
Keeping military and police out of civilian posts
The overstaffing of the TNI has led to a demand that the government allow military personnel to hold civilian jobs. This raises fear that Indonesia would again have a dwifungsi (dual function) military, which helped Soeharto maintain his power during the New Order.
The current 2004 Military Law does not have a provision that allows military personnel to hold civilian jobs.
Students protest against the planned revisions to the Criminal Code and the revision of the Corruption Eradication Commission Law in front of the House of Representatives in Senayan, Jakarta, on Sept. 24, the biggest student movement since 1998. (JP/Anggie Angela)
End militarism in Papua
The military has maintained a strong presence in Papua because of the number of separatist groups in the two Papuan provinces. Recently, an investigation revealed that military activity in Nduga regency in Papua led to several human rights violations.
A racially tinged incident in Surabaya in August, which led to weeks of unrest in the Papuan provinces, has brought back the issue to public attention.
End prosecution of activists
The students in Yogyakarta, in their press release and standpoint document, said they were aware of prosecutions of corruption and democracy activists. Indonesia Corruption Watch release a report in April 2019 that from 1996 to the time of the report release there had been 91 cases of assaults against and prosecution of 115 anticorruption activists.
On forest fires
For months, some provinces on Sumatra and in Kalimantan have been battling forest fires, which resulted in smog and decreasing air quality. The National Police have named 249 people and six companies suspects of starting the forest fires.
On human rights violations
During the campaign period before he was elected for the first time, Jokowi promised to resolve past human rights violations in Indonesia. Activists have since slammed Jokowi for his mere lip service to or outright silence over some human rights violations, both in the past or under his administration. Taking part in the student protest in Jakarta on Sept. 24 was Maria Catarina Sumarsih, the mother of Atma Jaya University student BR “Wawan” Norma Irmawan, who was shot and killed during prodemocracy protests in what became known as the 1998 Semanggi Tragedy.
Sumarsih has been attending a human rights event called the “Kamisan” on every Thursday for hundreds of times to demand closure for her son’s murder, but up until now the government has not found the killer.