Indonesian computer studies student T.A., 23, was blasted by police water cannons on Tuesday in the East Javanese city of Malang, when he and hundreds of students took to the streets to protest controversial changes to the national criminal code. The Brawijaya University student, who did not want to give his full name, was among the thousands of people – mostly students – from Medan in western Indonesia to Gorontalo in the northern part of the archipelago who united to reject sweeping legislation that would discriminate against women and minorities and restrict free speech, among other changes. “I’m sceptical they will withdraw the bill but if students put enough pressure on national parliamentarians, maybe they will consider it,” T.A. said. Indonesian police fire tear gas at students protesting against penal code On Wednesday, riot police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse thousands of rock-throwing student protesters who were attempting to gather outside the national parliament building. Their demonstration was a continuation from Tuesday night when they protested outside the parliament building against the criminal code and a recently passed law that diminished the independence of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). The KPK has arrested hundreds of government officials since 2002 in an effort to stamp out graft. Indonesian social media has since come alive with comparisons of the violent clashes between police and protesters – which have seen close to 300 people injured – to the unrest in Hong Kong over the now-withdrawn extradition bill . News portal Narasi TV carried a video with Indonesian subtitles explaining how protesters in Hong Kong neutralised tear gas canisters using traffic cones. Even the respected Kompas newspaper published a piece on how to cope with being tear gassed on its website, while other Twitter users shared photos of the unrest on Tuesday with captions such as “This is Jakarta, not Hong Kong”. As protesters rallied for a third day on Wednesday, the US and Australian embassies in Jakarta warned of the possibility of more demonstrations in the coming days and advised its citizens to avoid areas affected by the protests. Public anger has been rising in recent weeks over legislative changes and ongoing tensions in the easternmost province of Papua, where thousands have rallied against ethnic discrimination. Fresh clashes erupted earlier this week, leaving 32 dead after fires were set in buildings in the mountainous region of Wamena, and the provincial capital of Jayapura. Man wanted in 1MDB scandal linked to controversial Hong Kong website Images of a list of demands made by protesters circulated on social media on Wednesday. Top on the list was for changes to the criminal code to be rejected by national parliamentarians, along with a series of other land rights and mining bills, and for the new law on the KPK to be revoked. With the change, the KPK would become a government body as opposed to an independent state institution – one overseen by a supervisory board from which approval for operations such as wiretaps would be needed. There was also a call for an end to militarism in Papua; to stop the burning of forests in the islands of Kalimantan and Sumatra that have led to a choking haze in Southeast Asia; and for perpetrators of human rights violations to be severely dealt with. Andreas Harsono, a researcher at Human Rights Watch in Indonesia, said the demonstrations were fuelled by persistent problems that threatened Southeast Asia’s largest democracy, which is home to over 260 million people. These were, he said, the management of the country’s rich natural resources for the greater good, the battle against systemic corruption, and the weakening of freedom of speech. Harsono said there were three major groups behind the organisation of the protests – the network of national student bodies, the alliance of farmers’ unions, and the indigenous peoples’ alliance. He added that the unhappiness was not just due to one element of the criminal code revision, which would outlaw extramarital sex. In Indonesia, reporting sexual harassment can get a woman jailed “Most media only concentrate on the students, and the issue of sex outside of marriage,” Harsono said. “This is not wrong, but it’s not a proportional focus. This is about the ability of the military, police, politicians and corporations to suck off more resources from Indonesia’s natural wealth.” Other analysts, however, pointed to how last week’s passage of the law on the KPK – one of the country’s most trusted institutions, according to public opinion polls – had affected President Joko Widodo’s reformist credentials. Popularly known as Jokowi, he will be sworn in for a second term next month and has pledged to ramp up Indonesia’s economic growth by wooing foreign investment and continuing to implement massive infrastructure projects. Indonesia’s @narasitv has made a video of Hong Kong protesters’ tactics against tear gas & water cannon. Indonesian netizens are posting the video saying how protesters there can learn from the tactics https://t.co/wFK4oZDg0J — Yenni Kwok (@yennikwok) September 25, 2019 Alexander Arifianto, research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technical University, said the law curbing the KPK’s authority would reduce the agency to “a toothless and ineffective paper tiger” if it were enacted. But Muhammad Nasir Djamil, a parliamentarian from the Islamic-based Prosperous Justice Party, argued that the criminal code should be reformed to make it more effective in combating crimes. Going forward, it might be necessary to consider involving student organisations in communications about proposed bills, said Djamil, who represents Indonesia’s westernmost province of Aceh, the only province that has adopted sharia law. Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama, has also backed the changes to the criminal code. Beijing the bogeyman: how fake news fuels fears in Malaysia and Indonesia The changes to the criminal code – which include a prison term of up to four and a half years for insulting the president or vice-president, and jail time for abortions in the absence of rape – would be negative for foreign investors, analysts said. Verisk Maplecroft’s principal political analyst Hugo Brennan told Bloomberg: “Companies with a physical presence in Indonesia will be scrambling to understand the significant human security risks that the bill would pose to their workforce, if passed into law.” Finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati also sounded the alarm on Wednesday, saying the criminal code changes could damage growth and stability. Widodo last week moved to delay the passage of the bill, saying more public consultation was needed. She said: “I hope that whatever triggered this can be discussed through existing political processes so that it does not cause a wider impact or damage sentiment.” Southeast Asia’s largest economy is already facing a changing investment climate amid global interest rate cuts. The nation’s central bank just last week issued its third rate cut since July in an effort to keep the economy growing. Olivia Lovelyna, who recently started at Padang State University in West Sumatra, said she feared the country was returning to “Suharto-era corruption” – a reference to the former general who was accused of corruption and nepotism in his three-decade rule of Indonesia. He was toppled in 1998 after the Asian financial crisis sparked mass street protests across the country, many involving students. Singapore detains three Indonesian domestic workers over Isis-related terrorism financing “The atmosphere is similar to the events of 1998,” said Lovelyna, who monitored the protests in Padang but did not join them. “Even high school students have taken part in the demonstrations.” Arifianto from Nanyang Technical University warned that the bill could still pass before the new session of parliament commences: “While the president has indicated he will stop the criminal code bill from being enacted, it is not clear if parliament will follow his wishes.” Arifianto predicted the protests would continue through next week until the new session begins. “There is a good possibility we could see a prolonged protest movement similar to Hong Kong, and it could last long after Jokowi’s second inauguration,” he said.