This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.
When thousands of university students stormed the streets to protest the many controversial amendments and laws proposed by Indonesia’s People’s Representative Council (DPR) earlier this week, high school students, most under the age of 18, skipped school to join the fight.
To the surprise of many, this included students of Technical Higher Secondary Schools (STM), a type of vocational school. STM students are often stereotyped as loud, rowdy, and apathetic, but they were welcomed by the masses as allies in resisting the DPR’s undemocratic changes to the Indonesian legal system.
STM-related trends continue to appear in Indonesia’s Twitter trending topics, but some netizens also think it’s inappropriate for teenagers to participate in protests against the criminalisation of extramarital sex, one of the controversial issues at the moment.
The STM students, many of whom went to Jakarta from the neighbouring cities of Bekasi and Bogor, were markedly more violent than other protesters. They allegedly brought sharp weapons, which were confiscated by police.
Authorities ended up detaining 570 highschoolers, some of whom have been retrieved by their parents. The wave of concerned parents that poured into police stations near the DPR building continued late into the night on Wednesday.
Police brutality and mistreatment of protesters are now under intense criticism. The Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation (LBH) received reports that 50 students were still missing since the protests began Monday.
“People are saying their friends are missing, they haven’t come home, and they’re worried because police are cracking down on so many areas,” said LBH Jakarta director Arief Zulkifli at a press conference. As the number of missing people grows, the LBH urges the police to ensure that all detained protesters have an attorney.
On Tuesday, student protests were also forcefully disbanded by law enforcement through the use of water cannons and tear gas. Faisal Amir, a student at Al azhar University, was allegedly badly beaten by the police, causing a brain injury. His school urged the police to explain the situation and identify the individual responsible for the injury. Amir is just one of many.
Puri Kencana Putri, a campaign manager at Amnesty International Indonesia, said law enforcement’s pushback against protesters was not in accordance with standard procedure. Videos and reports have surfaced of police using excessive force against students and intimidating journalists.
Putri said that based on police regulations, which are written into law, they must follow human rights principles while on the job. Police regulations also outline standard crowd-control procedures, though they quickly implemented disbandment by force (code red) as protesters were waiting for DPR speaker Bambang Soesatyo to address them.
“We must ask, what does the police [at the DPR] consider to be a situation that requires a code-red response?” Putri stressed.
Violence by law enforcement sent 88 protesters to the hospital yesterday. The night before, 265 people were treated in various Jakarta hospitals, 11 of them as inpatients.
According to data obtained from Jakarta police by the NGO KontraS (Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence), 143 individuals with ties to the protests are still being held at various police stations, in addition to the 570 high school students.
“Most of the people being detained were born between 1998 and 2000, but we’re not completely sure,” Feri Kusuma, deputy coordinator at KontraS, told VICE.
The violence is not limited to the capital city. In South Sulawesi, a province where forest fires are decimating the land, at least 37 students have been injured by law enforcement. In a separate incident that took place in Kendari, Sulawesi today, a 21-year-old student only known as Randi was shot in the chest while protesting by an unknown perpetrator.
In Bandung, Indonesia’s third-largest city, 92 students were sent to the hospital after violent encounters with law enforcement.