Jakarta. Indonesian Police admitted to firing shots at protesters following a demonstration that turned rowdy on Jalan Diponegoro in Central Jakarta on Wednesday.
Jakarta Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Boy Rafli Amar said officers at the scene felt cornered because demonstrators had turned brutal.
“It was 3 p.m., and demonstrators refused to disperse. Worse, they were attacking us. Our officers felt completely cornered,” Boy said, adding that the demonstrators were not just out of control, but were clearly breaking regulations by blocking the road.
The clash Boy was referring to was between hundreds of student protesters and police in the upscale Menteng neighborhood of Central Jakarta.
Demonstrators burned tires and pictures of the president, and police responded with tear gas and warning shots.
The protest was held to mark the first anniversary of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono starting his second term.
“We are interrogating six officers from the scene in connection with the shooting. We will examine everything to check whether or not they followed procedures in a professional manner. All six are officers in the Central Jakarta region,” Boy said.
On Wednesday, Jakarta Police Chief Insp. Gen. Sutarman sent out a warning to demonstrators taking part in antigovernment protests.
He said police would shoot to immobilize if they believed it justified.
Outgoing National Police Chief Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri recently signed a regulation that allows police officers to use live bullets on rioters if they attack officers.
Police are supposed to shoot to immobilize, not to kill.
Sutarman had said: “The new regulation will be exercised against anarchic demonstrators.”
He defined anarchic situations as those where public order was under threat and which were characterized by attacks on security officers or members of the public with any weapon, including blunt or sharp objects or firearms.
Boy had said on Wednesday he believed one of the protesters in Menteng might have been hit in the leg by “a warning shot from a revolver.”
The protester shot in the leg was identified by police as Restu Farel, a law student of the Bung Karno University.
Boy said on Thursday that protesters had begun to throw stones at officers, and the demonstrators had failed to heed either verbal warnings of warning shots fired by police.
“We attempted to engage them in a dialog. However they just stayed put and continued to attack us. We detained some of them and they became even more brutal. Besides, this protest was illegal. They had not registered it with us,” Boy said.
Separately, House deputy speaker Pramono Anung said on Thursday that Wednesday’s shooting was unnecessary.
The shooting “was too much even if they had used rubber bullets,” he said. “The demonstration yesterday was within a reasonable scale. That the police opened fire, that was too much.”
Anis Matta, the deputy speaker from the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), also condemned the police shooting.
“There is an excessive paranoia from the government in dealing with the Oct. 20 protest; the response was a bit too much.”
Anis urged the police to investigate and find the truth behind the shooting incident. But at the same time, he reminded the public to be more objective in judging the situation.
“This is a matter of action and reaction,” he said. “There was the anarchism factor.”
Meanwhile, Poengky Indarti, the director of the watchdog Imparsial, said on Thursday the police should not have used their weapons to stop the students from rallying in Diponegoro.
“They could have used a water cannon if they wanted to stop them, instead of harming the students,” Poengky said.
“Police should have used a persuasive approach to the students instead of shooting them. This is totally incorrect.”
She said the shooting showed the police force was not an independent body.
“The police are like the puppet of the president, as our president is very afraid of demonstrations during his cabinet anniversary,” she said, adding that a rumor had circulated that the protests would cause Yudhoyono to step down like Suharto in 1998.
She said she was afraid more civilians would be injured or killed if the police could not be more independent.
“More civilians will become victims whenever they stage rallies if the president is too sensitive,” she said.