On April 18, 2022, thousands of students from various campuses gathered in front of the Ternate mayor’s office and in the road to the Sultan Baabullah Airport outside of Khairun University to protest the rise in fuel prices and a potential three-term presidency for President Joko Widodo (known as “Jokowi”). Police fired tear gas, used water cannons, and arrested 36 students between the two locations.
In anticipation of the protest, the city deployed 550 police officers at various points and placed barbed wire outside of the mayor’s office.
According to Malut Post, hundreds of students gathered around 1:00 pm outside Campus I of Khairun University and began blocking the main road to the Sultan Baabullah Airport with burning tires, which resulted in at least the partial closure of the road. Some sources state that the group intended to occupy the airport itself, but there is not reporting that says they attempted to enter any airport buildings or property. At the same time, students also gathered outside of the mayor’s office to protest.
According to VOI, at around 6:00 pm the police began forcibly dispersing the protesters after requesting that they disperse, including by firing water cannons and tear gas. Pikiran Rakyat reported that in addition to the protests, a five-month-old child was affected by the blasts of tear gas and consequently experienced respiratory issues, although Indonesian authorities denied it. Police also started detaining protesters, which other civilians attempted to stop, including women near the airport who tried to block the police as they chased students. Altogether, 36 students were arrested – 14 near the airport and 22 by the mayor’s office – and apparently held overnight. The following day, Antara Maluku reported that 35 of the 36 students had been released after signing statements to refrain from “anarchic actions” (translated via Google); one remained in custody for a positive drug test.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the disproportionate use of force against students exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly – conduct which is expressly protected by international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Indonesia is a party. While state security forces have a responsibility to maintain security and safety, they must also refrain from the disproportionate use of force and ensure that their actions are not intended to restrict or retaliate against student expression and do not endanger demonstrators or other civilians. Students should also ensure that their expressive activity is peaceful and responsible. In addition to harm to the immediate victims, the disproportionate use of force against students undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.
*SAR identified this incident in data made publicly available by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).