There Are Attempts to Downplay Students’ Action
Asfinawati, Director, Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation:
INDONESIAN Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI)’s Director, Asfinawati, seemed to be working outdoor for the past month as she and her fellow activists from Civil Society Coalition (KMS) participated a series of demonstrations.
At the beginning, they were at the Corruption Eradication Commission’s (KPK) building in Kuningan, South Jakarta to protest the new KPK leadership candidates and the KPK Bill. Asfinawati, 42, views the two as overall setbacks. “It is like attacks from within by a Trojan horse and from outside via the regulations,” she said during a special interview with Tempo. Following the House of Representatives (DPR) endorsed the bill on September 17, they in protest held a symbolic ‘funeral’ of the anti-graft agency at the building terrace.
From Kuningan, their attention shifted to Senayan. At the parliament, lawmakers suddenly were stepping on the gas to pass another law. But many sides view the majority of their regulations to have the potentials to ‘castrate’ the law enforcement, violate human rights and muffle public criticism. “They can cause our democracy to regress,” Asfinawati said.
By that time, on September 19, student protests had already begun albeit in small groups. The Civil Society Coalition joined at the peak of the mass demonstration on September 24. The atmosphere jogged Asfinawati’s memory of the student movement 21 years ago where she, wearing the yellow jacket, marched with a sea of protestors. “This is genuine, like in 1998. Even students who only spend their times between home and campus participated,” she gushed. Another similarity, she pointed out, was the absence of ‘commanders’. Each group came on its own and got confused upon reaching the location because it was already filled with other groups. She believes that they were moved by a common disquiet.
When the demonstrations finally subsided, Asfinawati was again busy giving legal assistance to activists and students arrested by the police. When she received Tempo reporters Reza Maulana and Aisha Shaidra at the LBHI’s office in central Jakarta on the morning of September 27, she had just caught a catnap after spending the night accompanying activist Dandhy Dwi Laksono who had been charged with violation of the Electronic Information and Transaction Law for his allegedly provocative tweet on Papua. Then, she had only got home feeling spent when she got news of the arrest of Ananda Badudu, a musician, for raising funds for the student movement. “These are attempts to silence opinions,” she lamented. Excerpts of the intervie
Some high-ranking officials said the student demonstrations were exploited. What is your response?
That statement disrespects the awareness of the students and the lecturers alike and the campuses that provided space. This action is genuine. People came on their own accord. Even students who spend their time only between home and campus were there. People from various regions were moved by the common disquiet. The rally is the ultimate forum where the people channeled their sense of justice.
Is there a more concrete evidence?
The rally was so easily clamped down. It was quickly dispersed not only because of the authorities’ repressive action, but also due to the lack of coordination. There were no coordinators. On Tuesday, September 24, there were three command vehicles in front of the main gate to the DPR alone. The Civil Society Coalition had to set oration time for each vehicle so that their voices would not overlap. Look at the handwritten posters the protesters brought. They were very genuine and witty. This is really a new and fresh brand of movement colored by the originality of the youths today. Their writings exhibit spontaneity. If the government and the DPR do not acknowledge this phenomenon, we must question their sense of justice and sensitivity. But unfortunately, there are attempts to belittle this movement through allegations that there is a mastermind.
Who coordinated the masses?
Nobody. They came by themselves. Just like the 98 movement. When they arrived at the area, many were confused as they could not reach the meeting point because the streets were already filled with other student groups. The only difference is that there was no WhatsApp in 1998. It’s organic. What this rally has in common with the 1998’s are spontaneity and originality. That time, many parties—not just students—took part. People usually march together for something important. This is an interesting lesson for me. It turns out that a given condition can give birth to a kind of common public logic. A common condition has brought about a unifying sense of justice in people. Like what happened in 1998.
Is this larger in terms of the size of the rally?
Many people think so, both in terms of the number of participants and the regions involved. And I hope that the public’s voice will be heard. We have a political gridlock in Indonesia.
Did you help coordinate on the ground?
What we did was only regulating oration time for the command vehicles. None prior to that. We only got to know them at the location.
The Civil Society Coalition was the first to stage demonstration to reject the weakening of the KPK. At which point did it and the students converge?
There was almost none. That’s why it’s amazing. The assumption that the students do not have their own mind and were steered by the coalition underestimates the students and overestimates the coalition at the same time. Certainly, we met some students, who are Jakarta residents, in other occasions, for example, KPK’s funeral, but we never knew what kind of plan they had. We were stunned to see so many on the ground.
How about the formulation of seven demands by the students?
It was an interesting process. A lot of people who never met before suddenly have similar ideas. The coalition had seven demands. Some student groups had four, some five. All were similar except a few variants.
Did you sit down with them to draw up the list?
As far as I recall, the process went on simultaneously. The coalition’s seven demands were similar to what the students had, only different in formulation. We were all taken by surprise.
Based on your observation at the location, how did violence occur?
I was near the main gate of the DPR building on Saturday afternoon (September 24). People were pushing and shoving and hurling things. A colleague and friends from the YLBHI were injured on their hands by a piece of wood thrown from the police lines. We didn’t see who did it. The condition became calm after we sang Indonesia Raya anthem and students even managed to hold a press conference. But suddenly we were blasted with water cannons. Everyone dispersed immediately. I ran through the Taman Ria’s gate towards Plaza Senayan.
Because the protest permit expired at 6pm?
I didn’t look at the watch but for sure it was not dark yet. It wasn’t even 5pm yet.
Some argue that the police’s repressive action was the reaction to the violence of the protesters in the previous demonstration.
If the protesters perpetrated violence, for example, threw rocks, then just pull and separate them from their groups. Not all. But they fired water cannons and tear gas on people who were only standing in the middle. In fact, the atmosphere was calm at that time.
It means the police mishandled this rally?
Demonstrators were asked to report to the police before the rally to ensure protection and security throughout the process. It is governed in the law No. 9/1998. So, the police’s duty is to protect and facilitate, not to obstruct.
(The article 13, the paragraph 3 of the law reads: “In expressing opinions in public, the National Police are responsible for providing security in line with the standing procedures to ensure public safety and order.”)
And the opposite happened...
My friends in the LBHI had enjoyed peaceful demonstrations before. For example, the Labor Day rally on May 1 each year. We marshalled thousands of demonstrators through to the front of the Palace. Everything went calmly. This began to change around 2015. There began to appear many restrictions, such as the prohibition to march beyond the Arjuna Wiwaha horse statue (around 800 meters from the palace’s south gate) and so on. There seems to be a shift in handling public expression of opinions although that is one of the essence of democracy. They have the regulations on it but do not apply them.
(Asfinawati showed the National Police Chief Regulation No. 8/2009 regarding the implementation of human rights principles and standards in discharging duties and the National Police Chief Regulation No. 1/2009 regarding the use of force in police action.)
What do you think caused the shift?
Ideally, the police should not become an instrument to any party. They are the long arm of the law. If, for example, the government, as represented by the President’s statement, says it does not want any more demonstration, the police do not have to obey it. The police force is the enforcer of the law, not the enforcer of the words of the president, much less of the DPR.
Including the call to not stage demonstrations to avoid unrest?
That is the narrative the government always uses: an assembled crowd would create unrest. We’ve proved otherwise in the many years that we accompanied workers in the May Day rallies. Chaos are usually ignited by police violence.
Do you agree with the police arresting protesters who use violence and vandalize public facilities?
If they are proven of doing so, offenders should be immediately localized and pulled from the lines. But what happened were indiscriminate arrests. A student taking a rest at a restaurant was taken away just for having toothpaste smeared on his cheek to alleviate the painful effect of the tear gas. That shows that the police acted against the law.
Also, when arresting activists after the demonstration?
There is not only criminalization of activists but also are attempts to hinder expression of opinions in public. Expressing opinion as done by Dandhy Dwi Laksono is not a crime. It is in fact guaranteed by the Constitution and the laws. What Ananda Badudu did was transparent, open and the public participation was voluntary.
Asfinawati (center) protesting the problematic KPK leader candidates in Jakarta, September 3. ANTARA FOTO/Rivan Awal Lingga
If assisting demonstrators is considered illegal, Awkarin (an internet celebrity Karin Novilda) could also be implicated...
(Laughs)...Yes. On that Tuesday afternoon, Awkarin dropped by the LBH office before the distribution of lunch boxes to the protestors. Unfortunately, we all had left and we neither met at the location.
How is the process of giving assistance to protesters who were arrested?
I was not involved directly so I don’t know the details. There is a team of advocates consisting of the community LBH, LBH Jakarta, LBH Apik, the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, Walhi (the Indonesian environment forum). There is also a pro bono assistance. The police said everyone would be released but they still detain some. The coalition provides legal assistance as the students don’t have access to lawyers. And many are not from Jakarta.
The YLBHI recorded that around 50 protesters are allegedly missing. How is the data collection done?
We have a team and many people voluntarily do that. That was indeed done in a hasty manner showing the lack of a detailed plan.
Why did the lack of coordination occur?
Because we did not know one another. There was almost zero coordination. This further proves that this movement was not orchestrated. If we and the students met intensively prior to the rally, we would already be in the DPR building by now, instead of being squashed like this.
There are accusations that students, particularly secondary schoolers, participated in the rally without the proper knowledge of the controversial law. Do you agree?
That is not true. First, the students’ demands cover beyond the technical articles of the law. They are extensive till the issue of forest and land fires. Second, the students did thoroughly review those articles. It’s just that the DPR had already revised some of them. The revisions were made in a very short period of time. So, if the students, not to mention the public, did not get the latest draft, whose fault is that? If we carefully observe the answers of the drafting team, they often forget the regulations they made. (Social media) buzzers use this blunder to devalue the students’ action. Eventually, we will become a failed state because every criticism is made worthless.
What are the implications if the bill is passed?
In essence, the sources of our livelihood will be taken away for corporations. The Land Bill has the details on 90-year land lease (HGU). The Water Resources Bill opens up opportunities for water privatization. The Mineral and Coal Bill sees the earth merely as a source to mine minerals. The much-debated Criminal Code (KUHP) Bill will be an instrument to control the public. The crux of all of that is deprivation of people’s rights via laws.
All are connected?
Yes. The state needs defenseless people to be able to strip them of their rights. That’s why they need the Criminal Code.
Are they also related to the new KPK Law?
Every regime that focuses on development only for investment without the human rights perspective considers corruption eradication as an obstacle for investment. Fadli Zon (DPR deputy speaker from Gerindra) and Moeldoko (the presidential chief of staff) made statements to this effect. So, they seek to weaken the anti-corruption drive by subverting the institution and its functions through the law. This is one big story.
Is President Joko Widodo’s call to delay the ratification of some of these laws sufficient to dispel that concern?
There is no such thing as delay in the laws. First, it is the President who requests the delay but it is the DPR which endorses it. Second, one day after the President made the request, the DPR lobbied the President and consequently the DPR session was postponed till September 30. What does this say? There is still a possibility of the bill being passed. It doesn’t take a genius to read the situation.
What should the government and the DPR do?
They should take heed of the aspirations of the people who rejected the bill. That’s what they failed to do and the situation was aggravated by paid buzzers who amplified the one-sided propaganda.
You repeatedly mentioned buzzers. How big is the effect of their work?
They obscured the public’s demands. The public need to be aware that politicians who hire buzzers manipulate opinions because they use bots, not real accounts.
The fact is that many posts and posters of buzzers were also shared among the people we know...
Those who share need to think twice as to whether the buzzer made the statement for a fee or not. If so, then that is a corruption offence referred to as trading in influence. These people are not trustworthy because they are paid to have their opinions. Payment may not always be in the monetary form but could also be promises for position.
Place and date of birth: Bitung, North Sulawesi, November 26, 1976 | Education: Bachelor of Law, University of Indonesia (1995-2002) | Career: Director, Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (2017-2021), Director, Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (2006-2009)