September 24, 2019 / 10:21 AM / 22 days ago

REFILE-Police fire water cannon as Indonesians rally against new penal code

(Corrects spelling of ‘cannon’ throughout)

JAKARTA, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Indonesian police fired water cannon and tear gas to break up protests on Tuesday, as tens of thousands of students gathered in cities nationwide over a range of issues including a new criminal code that penalises adultery and revised laws on corruption.

President Joko Widodo on Friday ordered a delay in parliament’s vote on the new criminal code, which would replace a Dutch colonial-era set of laws, saying a new parliament should deliberate on the bill next month.

The revisions to the code also include penalties for sex outside marriage, insulting the president’s dignity, a four-year jail term for abortions in the absence of a medical emergency or rape, and a prison term for black magic.

Though the vote was not included in Tuesday’s plenary session in parliament, some lawmakers have said they will try to come up with a new draft to bring it to a vote before their current term ends at the end of this month.

Students, often wearing colourful jackets from their alma maters, gathered in cities across the country.

One banner held by a woman in a photo posted on social media read: “My crotch does not belong to the government”.

Thousands gathered in the front and back entrances to Jakarta’s parliament building, demanding to meet with parliament speaker Bambang Soesatyo.

Soesatyo held a news conference inside the building urging calm, but refused to answer questions from reporters about whether the vote will be delayed until new parliament takes office, repeating the vote could happen in the current term.

Police then fired water cannon and tear gas in an attempt to clear the crowd.

On the main street through Jakarta, hundreds of others were marching down towards parliament after protesting in front of the presidential palace, blocking traffic.

“We’re going to parliament to oppose the new law for the anti-corruption agency that are not pro-people but are pro-corruptors,” Fuad Wahyudin, 21-year-old student from an Islamic university in West Java, told Reuters. “The criminal code is the same, it doesn’t side with the people,” said Wahyudin.

Though the president had ordered a delay in the criminal code, Wahyudin said he wants to make sure parliament does not pass the bill into law until they change it to reflect demand from protesters.

President Widodo told Indonesians this month he would not compromise in the fight against graft, amid concerns over the officer picked to head the anti-corruption agency and proposed changes curbing its right to wiretap suspects without a warrant.

Police also fired tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters in Bandung, West Java, who hurled rocks at police officers near a local parliament building.

Students had stayed in front of Jakarta’s parliament until near midnight on Monday, breaking part of the fence and blocking a toll road.

Media said more than 5,000 police personnel have been deployed to maintain security in the capital Jakarta. (Reporting by Gayatri Suroyo, Tabita Diela and Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Editing by Ed Davies and Hugh Lawson)

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