Corrupted Reformasi: Witness to clashes between students and police

Source – September 26, 2019
Police spray protesters with water in front of DPR building (Pamarta Nusantara)
Police spray protesters with water in front of DPR building (Pamarta Nusantara)

Reja Hidayat, Felix Nathaniel and Haris Prabowo – On Tuesday afternoon in front of the House of Representatives (DPR) building, held back by a fence, the protester’s fury reached its climax.

Those in the front ranks of the thousand of the student and civil society demonstrators began to throw empty plastic bottles. Alongside them were lines of police. As the situation began to heat up, the speaker repeatedly warned the protesters not to riot.

From atop of a command vehicle the speaker announced that DPR Speaker Bambang Soesatyo would meet with them at 4 pm that afternoon. The anger began to subside somewhat.

4 pm passed, but Soesatyo never appeared at the front gate of the DPR. The speaker took a decision. They asked that the women protesters to move back. This was a sign that the demonstrators were ready to do battle.

The order was accompanied by increasingly shrill shouts from the crowd who began throwing bottles and rocks in the direction of the DPR’s front gate. The fence near the main gate began to shake and rock.

Behind the gate, police prepared themselves. Helmets and riot vests had already been donned. Riot shields were at the ready. A water cannon had been moved into place facing the protesters throwing bottles at police.

A moment later, the water cannon began spraying water at students trying to climb the main gate. Police fired teargas. But before the protesters were driven away by the teargas, they had already succeeded in breaking down part of the fence. Police rushed towards the breach to prevent them entering the DPR grounds.

It was then that demonstrators moved in from the other side. They shook the side fence until it collapsed also. Police responded with more teargas. Unfortunately, the wind direction caused the teargas to blow back in the direction of police.

The protest continued, despite the barrage of teargas, leaving the police at a loss as to how to maintain security around the DPR gate.

Central Jakarta regional police chief Senior Commissioner Harry Kurniawan took a decision to open one of the two main gates and allow troops to pour out. Behind the police ranks, fully armed marines could be seen.

Police counterattack

The police counterattack resulting in the protesters splitting up and moving to three locations: the bridge towards Slipi, the toll road opposite the DPR and the road in the direction of Semanggi. In front of the DPR building, fires could be seen that had been set by protesters.

One of the worst was on the toll road. The thick black smoke from burning tyres billowed over the pedestrian overpass. The smell of burning tyres and teargas burned the nose.

The protesters from the direction of Slipi could be seen holding their ground despite being confronted by police. The majority were students from the Trisakti University and the Jakarta State University.

But as they moved off, a riot broke out. The demonstrators pelted the police moving towards them with rocks. The crowd grew with people coming from the direction of the Palmerah train station. A police post near the Slipi overpass was torched.

Meanwhile the protesters opposite the DPR and on the toll road were still fighting it out with police. Police fired teargas. Protesters responded by throwing rocks.

This continued until police attacked and forced the protesters to retreat. Some went in the direction of Pejompongan while others went towards Semanggi. Before being dispersed however, they had already set fire to the Pejompongan toll gate.

On the southern side in the direction of Semanggi, the protesters set fire to tyres on the road in an attempt to block the path of a police Barracuda armed vehicle. An argument broke out. Stones and Molotov cocktails were thrown. Teargas was fired.

The demonstrators scattered after police repeatedly fired teargas. Some went in the direction of the Pemuda toll gate, another group in the direction of Pejompongan, and others in the direction of Semanggi.

Assault on the rear gates

Attacks and counter-attacks between police and students did not just take place at the DPR’s front gate. Hostilities between protesters and police also broke out at the back gate on Jl Gelora.

The majority of demonstrators at the DPR’s back gate were students from the Pamulang University, the PGRI Indraprasta University, the Mercu Buana University, the Bhayangkara University and the University of Indonesia.

Since 4.30 in the afternoon, the students had been pelting the police with water bottles. They also pushed on the rear gate until in collapsed. Chaos broke out. Police fired teargas. The protesters scattered and ran. Some retreated in the direction of the intersection at the Palmerah train station.

Nauval, one of the students, said that they broke down the gate to the DPR because their request to meeting with lawmakers was not heeded. Nauval said they were annoyed by the DPR’s attitude in postponing the enactment of the Draft Criminal Code (RKUHP) but leaving the problematic articles unchanged.

“If all of a sudden the next [plenary meeting] ratifies it, what then? Better if we [get rid of it] all together now. While there’s momentum”, said Nauval.

The students, who had initially retreated, then advanced on the back gate again, setting fire to tyres. The crowd of students who had earlier been at the front gate came round to the back gate to help their comrades.

Police responded. They again fired volleys of teargas near the traffic lights at Palmerah station. As a result, local people became the target of the teargas barrage.

The attack caused the students to split up. Some going in the direction of the TVRI state-own television building, others in the direction of Palmerah station.

Near the TVRI building another group was forced back from the DPR front gate. Towards 8 pm they set fire to a police post at the Mulia Hotel intersection.

Teargas attack on Palmerah station

At the Palmerah train station, the protesters asked the police to stop firing teargas. The police however failed to heed the request.

During the two hour siege, police repeatedly fired teargas in the direction of the station with two canisters being fired behind the platform fence, two on the tracks of Platform 1, one onto the station pedestrian overpass, one onto the station roof, two more onto the station floor, one of which missed.

Private employee Dewi Nurita was one of the victims of the teargas. At the time she had just arrived at the Palmerah station. In front of her she could see many students preparing to go home after the action. All of a sudden three teargas canisters landed close to where she was standing.

She coughed. Her eyes watered. The teargas hurt her eyes. “I almost died”, said Nurita.

The teargas made it difficult for many people at the station to flee to safety. Some fell unconscious and others were short of breath. Others tried to get out of the train station.

Since 10.30 pm the students had begun to disbursing. After this, the crowd became mixed with the majority coming from local residents. They stayed until 2 in the morning.

For five hours the Palmerah station traffic intersection had been a focus of the attack.

During the clashes, at least 14 vehicles were torched. Four near the Palmerah market, six at the Palmerah intersection and five inside the Palmerah police traffic post.

A man with an anxious look on his face approached me at the intersection. “Which media are you from? Can you help me?”.

The man, named Anka, who worked at a shopping centre in Senayan, said he had just come back from a date with his girlfriend. But when he returned home, his motorcycle was stopped by police because there was a clash at the Palmerah station intersection.

He decided to find somewhere save and leave his motorbike. Unfortunately, when he returned it had been torched. “My motorbike was there”, he said pointing to a motorbike workshop blackened by fire.

High-school students fight back

Violent incidents at the same located were repeated the next day when technical high-school students arrived at the DPR building.

Since yesterday, Wednesday afternoon, waves of high-school students heading for the front of the DPR building were blocked by police in the Semanggi area. Others were stopped in front of the Metro Jaya regional police headquarters. By afternoon around 200 high-school students had been arrested.

The high-school students were more determined in fighting back against excessive acts by police and videos circulating on social media recorded this resistance.

One video depicted a police officer stopping a high-school student on a motorcycle, then kicking them. The student’s friends fought back, kicking, hitting and attacking the police officers until they fled in disarray.

Another video showed a high-school students’ delight when they were sprayed with water from a water cannon. Another showed a wave of high-school students filling the road, running and shouting.

A poster from a photograph which captured the demonstration by the high-school students depicts the attitude and psyche of the clashes that day: “University Students Speak, High-School Students Act”, it read.

It was this psyche which hardened during one heated clash in an area near the DPR building that night.

The student’s anger was ignited by the police indiscriminately firing teargas in the Palmerah area, local residents gathered on the train tracks on Jl Tentara Pelajar at 7.30 pm in the evening.

In front of them was a brigade of Mobile Brigade (Brimob) combat troops with riot shields and helmets who had closed off Jl Gelora. Every now and then the Brimob officers fired teargas to disburse the protesters.

Back at the grounds of the DPR, scores of Brimob officers were still waiting. At 8 pm, Central Jakarta municipal police chief Harry Kurniawan ordered them to force the protesters back. Scores of Brimob and intelligence officers exited the DPR through the pedestrian gate.

The protesters scattered in the direction of Bendungan Hilir, Bentara Budaya Jakarta and the Palmerah market. Brimob officers took turns in taking control of the train tracks on Jl Tentara Pelajar.

On several occasions protesters pelted the police with rocks and glass bottles. Broken glass, stones, teargas canisters and burning rubbish was scattered over the road. Police conducted several sweeps of the area.

Arrests, journalists attacked

Towards 9 pm, scores of police and intelligence officers arrested 14 people who they alleged were “provocateurs”, who had been hiding in the vicinity of Bentara Budaya Jakarta. This journalist was only able to see this by moving slowly as if they were one of the intelligence officers.

They were arrested one by one. Their shirts and trousers were removed leaving them wearing only underpants. The police and intelligence officers punched and hit them. They were then gathered at one point while they waited for a police detention vehicle to arrive.

A short time later a person was grabbed and accused of being a demonstrator. The man denied this and claimed to be a journalist. “Pak [Mr], I’m a journalist. Don’t hit me. Be professional”, he said.

The man was wearing a T-shirt and the words were printed on his jacket.

The police however didn’t believe him and he was hit, his bag tossed and his portable keyboard removed from his bag. The man shouted and resisted saying that the police should not treat journalists roughly. He objected to his keyboard being thrown onto the road.

This journalist tried to intervene telling police that we are journalists (Tirto is still checking the identity of the journalist).

A short time earlier at the same location a motorcycle belonging to Putera Negara, an online journalist from, was torched by protesters at the back gates of the parliamentary complex.

The motorbike, which was hurriedly parked at the Palmerah traffic post because there was clash, was set fire to after high-school students tried to force their way into the DPR complex through the pedestrian access gate.

“I tried to save myself because the panicking protesters were throwing stones and other things”, said Putera.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was “Reformasi Dikorupsi: Bentrok Polisi dan Demonstran di DPR”.]