Thousands of protesters set fire to barricades and police posts in the Indonesian capital beginning Wednesday as opposition mounted to a controversial new investment law critics say will harm labor rights and the environment.
Tens of thousands of people have protested in cities across the archipelago since Monday’s passing of the bill, which seeks to attract foreign investment by cutting red tape around taxation, labour and environment regulations. Labour activists and green groups have slammed the legislation, however, with Amnesty International saying it is “catastrophic” for workers.
Nearly 13,000 police deployed Thursday to block access to government buildings in central Jakarta failed to stop protesters from making their way to the heart of the capital. The protesters set fire to barricades and torched several bus stops and police traffic posts.
Police had banned the protests on the grounds it could spread the coronavirus. At least 300,000 people have been infected in the world’s fourth most-populous nation so far, and more than 11,000 have died. Experts believe the true figures are much higher, however, but hidden by a lack of testing.
Jakarta police spokesman Yusri Yunus said around 1,000 protesters had been tested since being detained by Thursday. Some “34 of them are reactive for Covid-19,” he said, adding they would be isolated and tested again. Workers and students also clashed with police in Makassar, Medan, Malang and Yogyakarta.
“We want the law to be cancelled,” Muhammad Sidharta told Agence France-Presse in Bandung, West Java, adding the regulation “hurts Indonesian people, not only workers like me.”
Although enforcement is sometimes patchy, Indonesia has tough labour laws — particularly involving foreign companies. Edi, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name, said he joined protests in Makassar on Sulawesi island because the law affected him as a worker.