September 26, 2019 / 4:27 PM / 18 days ago

After protests, Indonesia president considers dropping anti-graft law

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Thursday he is considering revoking a new law governing the country’s anti-corruption agency, which has alarmed activists and helped drive the biggest student protests in decades.

FILE PHOTO: Indonesia Chief Security Minister Wiranto delivers a speech during a meeting between former militants and victims in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

In a televised address, Widodo said he had received a lot of feedback on the new law including on whether to use his authority to replace it by issuing a regulation instead.

“Of course we will consider it, assess it immediately,” Widodo told reporters.

The Corruption Eradication Commission, known by its Indonesian initials, KPK, has prosecuted hundreds of politicians, officials and businessmen since its formation in 2002, becoming one of the country’s most respected agencies.

Activists say revisions to the law approved by parliament last week will hurt the fight against graft. The changes include curbing the agency’s freedom to wiretap suspects and creating a committee to oversee the agency.

Anger over the new law and a plan to revise Indonesia’s criminal code that would ban extramarital sex and penalise insulting the president’s honour have sparked student rallies.

Tens of thousands have joined the biggest rallies since 1998 student protests fuelled unrest that led to the fall of former strongman Suharto.

Widodo has delayed parliament’s vote on the criminal code, which would replace a Dutch colonial-era set of laws, saying a new parliament should review the bill next month.

On Thursday, Widodo also said he would look at feedback on whether it “intruded too far into private lives and at other chapters, including the code on insulting the president”.

While the proposed ban on extra-marital sex has grabbed headlines abroad, the bill covers 628 articles in total and opposition in the country of 260 million people is based on a much wider set of concerns than sex.

The bill also penalises teachers of Marxist-Leninist ideology and women who have abortions in the absence of a medical emergency or rape.

STUDENT KILLED

The student rallies this week across a number of cities turned violent in several places with police firing tear gas and water cannon and with more than 300 hurt in Jakarta alone.

A student died after being shot during a protest outside the parliament in Kendari on Sulawesi island, CNN Indonesia cited army commander Colonel Yustinus Nono Yulianto as saying.

Another student was critically hurt in Jakarta with head injuries, officials and the university said.

Amnesty International said authorities should “immediately initiate a thorough and impartial investigation into massive police violence against students during protests”.

At least 200 people have been arrested since the rallies began on Monday, national police chief Tito Karnavian told a news conference.

Indonesia’s Chief Security Minister Wiranto has said the student protests were hijacked by a group aiming to disrupt parliament and the inauguration of President Widodo next month for a new term.

“The brutal demonstrations perpetrated by rioters, fighting against officers, throwing rocks, shooting fireworks at the officers at night ... they were trying to make victims,” Wiranto told a news conference.

Widodo is due to be sworn in for a second term on Oct. 20 after winning this year’s general election.

Wiranto did not name the group he said was manipulating the protests, but he described an effort to get radical Islamic groups, soccer supporters and labour groups to join the rallies.

Reporting by Tabita Diela and Stanley Wididanto; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Darren Schuettler and Giles Elgood

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