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Thousands in Indonesia Protest Bills to Limit Rights and Ban Extramarital Sex

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Thousands of protesters gathered outside of Parliament and in cities across Indonesia on Monday urging the president, Joko Widodo, to halt legislation aimed at crippling anti-corruption efforts and sharply reducing personal freedom.

Efforts by the outgoing Parliament to rush through a series of contested bills with the president’s approval before its five-year session ended Monday have aroused national concern over the measures, which opponents say would transform Indonesia into a less tolerant and more repressive society. Protesters fear the reintroduction of the measures after the new Parliament is sworn in on Tuesday.

One far-reaching measure, a proposed revision of the criminal code, would outlaw abortion except in cases of rape and incest and prohibit sex outside marriage, effectively banning gay and lesbian relations. It also would restrict free speech by strengthening laws on blasphemy and treason and making it a crime to insult the president.

Student-led protests, which began last week, compelled Mr. Joko to put a hold on many of the bills, including the criminal code revision. But that is not enough for protesters, who want him to pledge not to let the crime bill come back.

“The president said he would postpone it, but we want it canceled,” said Rama, a 24-year-old student at Industrial Management Polytechnic who gave only his first name for fear of retribution. “We will protest until it is revoked.”

The president also has balked at pulling back a law already approved by Parliament that would limit the authority of the respected Corruption Eradication Commission, including its power to wiretap suspects and hire independent staff members.

Many Indonesians see government corruption as one of the nation’s biggest problems and view the commission as one of the few entities that has done something about it.

At the same time, many members of Parliament, fearful of getting caught up in one of the commission’s investigations, have long wanted to limit its powers.

Mr. Joko has the authority to revoke the corruption bill, subject to Parliament’s approval. Initially he said he would not pull it back, but later said he would consider doing so.

Many Indonesians feel a sense of betrayal.

Mr. Joko, who in April won re-election over his main opponent by 11 percentage points, campaigned on a platform of improving the economy, not on restricting personal freedom or making it easier for public officials to get away with graft.

The revelation that he quietly supported these measures in Parliament has caused his popularity to plummet just as he prepares for his Oct. 20 inauguration to a second five-year term.

Members of the new Parliament are expected to reintroduce the crime bill as well as measures that would make it easier for companies to exploit the country’s natural resources.

The political composition of the new Parliament is similar to the outgoing body.

One protester who joined the demonstration outside Parliament on Monday, Debra Johannes, 21, urged Mr. Joko to consider what kind of society he was creating for the future.

“You are the father figure for all of us,” said Ms. Johannes, a student at the London School of Public Relations in Jakarta, the capital. “We are your young generation, your successors. What you do today will be our inheritance. So please, leave a good legacy.”

Tens of thousands of protesters who took to the streets last week in Jakarta and other cities were met by aggressive police tactics, including water cannons and tear gas. Hundreds were injured and hundreds more arrested.

Two student protesters died on Sulawesi island in circumstances that remain unclear. One was shot and the other suffered severe head injuries. Mr. Joko expressed his condolences to the families of those killed and called for an investigation into their deaths.

Separately, the police arrested two activists for online activity, including one who used a crowdsourcing website to raise funds for the protests.

Critics say that Mr. Joko has put his program to build up the nation’s infrastructure ahead of every other issue, including human rights, freedom of expression, limiting corruption and protecting the environment.

“He is saying he wants democracy, human rights and free expression, but on the other hand the police keep arresting and criminalizing people,” said Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia.

Some activists have compared the protests to huge demonstrations 20 years ago that called for the establishment of a democratic society and led to the downfall of Suharto, the dictator who had ruled for 32 years.

In an effort to stem the political damage, the president’s office sought to arrange a meeting with student leaders on Friday. But they refused to meet with the president unless it was open to the public and televised.

They called on the president to agree to their seven demands, which have expanded beyond the controversial legislation to include looking into past cases of human rights abuses and withdrawing troops from West Papua, where recent clashes have led to dozens of deaths.

Mr. Joko met on Thursday with nearly four dozen civil society leaders who had generally supported him in the past but who opposed the recent legislation.

The president listened to their concerns but did not promise any action, said Father Franz Magnis-Suseno, a politically active Jesuit priest who attended the meeting.

“Jokowi is fixated on his infrastructure things,” he said, using Mr. Joko’s nickname. “It is something really close to his heart. His heart does not lie with human rights.”

Source: NYT > World News

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