Student activists ill-treated by security forces during protests

Peaceful Assembly

Police in Indonesia continue to arbitrarily arrest and criminalise peaceful protesters as well as use excessive force at protest - actions that contravene Indonesia’s human rights obligations.

On 14th December 2017, dozens of student activists from the Indonesian Nationalist Students Movement organised a march to the East Nusa Tenggara province parliament in Kupang city to protest against the failure of the authorities to manage medical waste in various hospitals in Kupang. The authorities shut the gates and blocked the students when they arrived at the provincial parliament. One student activist, Yohanes Ndawa, walked to the gate and called for the protesters to continue their demonstration and ignore the police presence. While doing this, a police officer grabbed Ndawa by the neck and dragged him into the security post (see video below). Inside the security post, Ndawa was taken into the toilet and there beaten by police. As a result of the beatings, the activist's collar bone was nearly broken. He was then taken to the local hospital for medical treatment. Shortly thereafter, he filed a complaint with the East Nusa Tenggara province regional police station. However, at the time of writing, no progress had been reported on the investigation into the police's violent actions against the student activist.

In another case, 15 student activists were arrested for their involvement in supporting a community in Kulon Progo district, Yogyakarta province that faced a forced eviction to make way for the New Yogyakarta International Airport. Opposition to the airport dates back to 2011 and reportedly affects around 11,501 residents in six villages. Many residents have not been consulted about the acquisition of land for the project or adequately compensated for loss of land. 

On 5th December 2017, the student activists had gathered in the house of one of the affected residents, Hermanto from Palihan village, when developers turned up with bulldozers and began to destroy a number of buildings owned by Hermanto. They were accompanied by police officers, military personnel and the civil service police unit. When the student activists attempted to support the villagers in putting a stop to the eviction, they were beaten and dragged by the security forces. In addition, 12 of them were arrested and brought to the Kulon Progo police station, while another three were arrested later that day. At least three student activists suffered injuries from the incident. All were subsequently released.

In response to the arrests and beatings, the Asian Human Rights Commission called on the authorities to:

“Ensure that a comprehensive investigation is undertaken to prosecute officers in the state apparatus that brutally attacked and harassed local residents and student activists. …Further land confiscation to expand the Airport must be avoided. Any form of illegal arrest and detention of local community members and activists who fought for land rights and a healthy environment, must cease”.


Criminal defamation provisions in the Criminal Code as well the Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law have been used by both politicians and businesses in Indonesia to silence criticism.

On 6th December 2017, two trade union leaders, Abdoel Moedjib, the chairperson of the Danamon Bank Labour Union, and Muhammad Afif, the Union's secretary general, were arrested and charged with defamation under articles 310 and 311 of the Criminal Code as well as articles 27(3) and 28(2) of the ITE Law. The charges were levied due to a video of a public speech made by Moedjib that criticised Danamon Bank and had been circulated on social media. After 17 days of detention, both were released and the Danamon Bank's management has since retracted the charges due to pressure from civil society. The Union has played a key role in supporting workers on issues such as mass layoffs, pension fund depreciation, outsourcing, contract workers and various other issues and many believe this was an attempt at union-busting by the Danamon management.

On 31st October 2017, the Jakarta Metropolitan Police arrested internet user, Dyann Kemala Arrizq from Tangerang, and charged her with criminal defamation under article 27(3) of the ITE law. She faces four years imprisonment if found guilty. Arrizq was arrested after circulating a meme on 7th October 2017 mocking Speaker and Chairman of the House of Representatives Setya Novanto. Novanto had fled anti-corruption investigators over the alleged theft of tens of millions of dollars from government programmes and then later emerged in a hospital emergency room. Novanto's lawyer claims the politician suffered a serious concussion after his car struck a pole. Novanto’s lawyer had filed a police report on the meme with the Jakarta Metropolitan Police on 10th October 2017.