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Case Study


Deaths and severe injuries from Indonesian police’s violent response to 2019 student demonstrations

Between 23 and 29 September 2019, students in many cities in Indonesia protested against new legislation that reduces the authority of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), and against several bills, including a new criminal code that penalizes extramarital sex and defamation against the president. In Jakarta and other cities, protesters clashed with the police, resulting in many injuries and deaths.

Among the numerous deaths documented in the context of these protests, on 26 September, two students died of gunshot wounds after a violent clash between the protesters and police in front of the provincial legislative council building in Kendari, Southeast Sulawesi. Immawan Randy, a 21-year-old student from Halu Oleo University, died after being hit in the chest by a bullet fired by police. A fellow protester, Yusuf Kardawi, a 19-year-old student from the same university, died after being shot in the head. The police initially denied using live ammunition or rubber bullets during the demonstration.

Eventually, the police declared that six policemen had carried firearms during the protest and, as a consequence, they were suspended. Initially, only disciplinary proceedings were opened against the police officers, and light punishments were issued against them. Following widespread public protests over the lack of accountability, the authorities were obliged to initiate a criminal investigation. In the case of Immawan’s death, the bullet fired at him matched the gun held by a policeman who was sentenced to four years in prison for the misuse of firearms. In Yusuf’s death, the process is still ongoing due to numerous shortcomings in the investigation.

The police have claimed that they encountered several difficulties in the case’s proceedings: no key witnesses, insufficient evidence, and no autopsy to establish Yusuf’s cause of death. The family refused to allow an autopsy, as Yusuf had already been buried. The police used this refusal to justify the lack of a thorough investigation. Despite the absence of an autopsy, some pieces of evidence, including a surveillance camera recording and the projectile itself, have been recovered and could be used to further the investigation. Another student, Dicky Wahyudi, was gravely injured during the September 2019 protests.

Dicky was struck by a police Barracuda armoured vehicle on 27 September while he was trying to escape the tear gas used to disperse protesters. The right side of his face was bruised and a wound was found on the right side of his chest. According to the South Sulawesi police chief, the massive armoured vehicle had accidentally crashed into Dicky. There is no further information about the investigation by the police regarding this case.

These deaths add to the long ledger of impunity for police violence in the context of protests, a list that keeps growing due to unsolved cases and new ones that keep arising. The trend is clear: police use violence during protests and cause casualties, yet it is only low-ranking officers who are held accountable, to the extent there is any accountability at all. Typically, there is no chain of command accountability nor any evaluation as to how police should better manage and facilitate protests in the future.

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