Indonesian police fired tear gas in central Jakarta on Monday after a new round of protests against controversial legal reforms descended into running street battles.
Several thousand students and activists had gathered near the parliament to rally against a new law which they say will undermine anti-corruption efforts, and a draconian draft penal code that would outlaw sex outside of marriage as well as severely curbing civil liberties and freedom of speech.
Some 20,000 police and military personnel were deployed to the capital to maintain security but chaos ensued when cars were trapped and a subway was closed as officers used tear gas to disperse the crowds.
Last week saw some of the biggest rallies since 1998 when student protests fuelled unrest that led to the fall of former President Suharto, and Indonesian students have increasingly begun to adopt the tactics of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy demonstrators in their cry for greater rights.
Ahead of major nationwide protests, a video of “Tips from Hong Kong” translated into Bahasa, and which explains how to deal with tear gas and riot police, went viral, reported Reuters.
Other posts shared translated advice on what equipment to bring to protests. Indonesia also appears to have embraced Hong Kong’s use of social media to help coordinate its leaderless movement.
Hashtags, including #ReformasiDikorupsi (#reformcorrupted), and #LogistikAksi (#logisticalaction) have been used, alongside a Twitter account that tracks the protests, @AksiLangsung (direct action), to crowdsource for medical help and supplies, and amplify the movement’s message.
Hong Kong protesters, now in their 18th week of demonstrations against Beijing’s rule, have sent messages of support and advice through social media, creating their own #StandWithIndonesia hashtag.
“Do not give up. Hongkongers will stand with you. Fight for justice and freedom together,” urged one Hong Kong Twitter account. Another warned: “Plz brace for state propaganda!,” while one advised using English to attract international attention.
As videos of Indonesian riot police deploying tear gas began to flood Twitter, Hong Kongers, now experienced with crowd control measures, condemned the use of force. “The insanity can become infectious..be safe Indonesian friends,” said one supporter, @RaptorBuzz.
“With smart phones and social media, information spreads like wildfire -- so it’s no surprise the Indonesian students are taking tips from the Hong Kong demonstrators,” said Phil Roberson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.
“Just as governments share worst practices like what rights abusing laws to pass and how to suppress freedom of expression and peaceful public assembly, now protesters are sharing lessons learned on how to respond to government repression,” he said.
“The question now is whether the Hong Kong or Indonesia authorities will further escalate their conflicts with protesters, or seek compromises by finally paying attention to people’s grievances and demands for official accountability for abuses.”
On Sunday, as violent clashes gripped Hong Kong, the two mass movements witnessed a grim crossover when Veby Mega Indah, an Indonesian journalist, was badly injured after being struck in the face by a projectile fired at the media by a Hong Kong police officer.
Dear friends in Indonesia,— Moira ��101 CCP's 70th Anniversary Celebration (@Moira_Ooops) September 27, 2019
I'm a Hong Kong citizen. Hongkongers have protests against an unwanted bill in HK in recent 3 months. The situation is very similar to yours, so I'm very worry about the incident in your country...#HidupMahasiwa#ReformasiDikorupsipic.twitter.com/cfsBH8SX9D
The journalist now plans to file a criminal complaint the Commissioner of Police and the officer who fired either a bean bag or rubber bullet at close range.
Indonesia faces its own reckoning with allegations of excessive police force. Last week close to 300 people, mainly students, were injured.
On Monday, Detik.com reported that 37 students were treated in hospital for tear gas inhalation, while @AksiLangsung posted several appeals in real time for oxygen, water and medication.
Joko Widodo, the Indonesian president, has promised an investigation into the deaths last week of two students in Sulawesi – one by blunt-force injuries to the head and another by a live bullet. The police deny that any live rounds were fired.
Protesters have vowed to continue until their demands are met. Mr Widodo has offered to meet student leaders, but he must tread a careful line between their reformist agenda and hardline, conservative Islamic groups who have previously whipped up crowds that crippled the nation’s capital.
As with Hong Kong’s opposition to a now withdrawn extradition bill, the latest Indonesian protests have been anchored in objections to a controversial draft law, but have morphed into a wider push for democratic reform.
Indonesian students have been angered by plans for a draconian new penal code that would heavily infringe on civil liberties, including a ban on extramarital sex but also curbs on political beliefs and an expansion of already harsh blasphemy laws.
But their list of seven demands – which emulates Hong Kong’s “five demands, not one less” motto – are also aimed at demilitarising the restive Papua region, and tackling the widespread forest fires in Sumatra and Borneo that are causing toxic haze across Southeast Asia.
Students also oppose a new law governing the country’s anti-graft agency, which many believe would undermine its powers.
The similarities in protest movements have raised the question of whether Indonesia is having its own “Hong Kong moment.”
“In both cases, the students can see that the political elite has struck deals that reflect given political interests but they don't find their own interests represented,” said Rainer Heufers, Executive Director of the Centre for Indonesian Policy Studies in Jakarta.
“In Hong Kong, the students fear a law that exposes them to the autocratic governance system of China. In Indonesia, they fear laws that enforce an outdated, paternalistic morality and that reduce the accountability of the political elite.” es.”