Tue, 14 May 2002

Police attack students honoring Trisakti dead

I Wayan Juniartha, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar

A violent clash erupted here on Monday afternoon after police officers attacked 60 student protesters from Udayana University who were staging a peaceful protest to commemorate the Trisakti shooting incident in 1998.

The clash took place at 1:15 p.m. local time at the square in front of the provincial legislative building.

The students were just about to lower the Indonesian flag from the square's flag pole and put it at half-staff -- to honor the fallen Trisakti students -- when dozens of police officers appeared and began beating the students with batons and rattan sticks.

"If they want to be reform heroes too, let's give them a chance," one police officer yelled angrily.

Overpowered and outnumbered, the students scattered. At least three students fell to the ground after being repeatedly struck and kicked by the officers.

One student, field coordinator Visa Ramadhani, fell to the ground after an officer struck him in the stomach with a stick. Visa slumped into a fetal position and lay motionless for quite some time. Yet he refused to be moved, saying he had to remain with his fellow protesters.

Despite their field coordinator being incapacitated, other student leaders managed to gather the protesters back. And when the protesters attempted to take revenge against the officers, the student leaders calmed them down, reminding them of the purpose of their protest.

"Let's not forget that we are here for a peaceful and nonviolent gathering. And let's not forget those students, the Trisakti students, our fallen comrades, who gave their lives for the noble cause of freedom, democracy and a nonviolent struggle," one student leader said.

After presenting their demands that the government seriously investigate the Trisakti incident and take the necessary legal steps to bring those responsible for the shootings to court, the protesters peacefully left the square.

The police's reaction was ironic since some 30 minutes earlier, when the same group of students peacefully demonstrated in front of the Bali Police Headquarters, a high-ranking police officer praised the students for their peaceful conduct.

"It is their right to express their opinion through a demonstration, and I am glad that they can do that in a peaceful way," Sr. Comr. Chamgani said.

Previously, the students also protested in front of the Udayana Military Command.