JAKARTA, Indonesia — Six people were reported killed and hundreds injured Wednesday in violent protests over the reelection of President Joko Widodo, prompting authorities to restrict access to social media.
Jakarta’s governor, Anies Baswedan, said he received information that six people died in the clashes, which were orchestrated by supporters of the losing candidate in April’s election, Prabowo Subianto, after the official results were announced.
Indonesian police acknowledged fatalities and said they heard hospital reports of the six deaths, but they declined to confirm that number. Police said they were not responsible for the deaths.
“There’s no way the state apparatus would kill the perpetrators,” said Indonesia’s security minister, Wiranto. Authorities said police were forbidden to use live ammunition against demonstrators.
Police, however, used tear gas in central Jakarta amid scuffles between protesters and security forces.
On Wednesday afternoon, Indonesia’s communication minister, Rudiantara, said access to social media would be restricted with immediate effect. The move made Indonesia the latest country to curb social media platforms after chaos and violence.
“The limitations will be placed on the spreading of download and uploads photos and videos,” Rudiantara said. “Again, it’s temporary and in stages.”
The restrictions appeared to apply primarily to the sharing of videos and photos over social media platforms such as Instagram and WhatsApp.
Widodo, who was reelected president, said his country “will not tolerate anyone who interferes with our security and democratic processes.” The situation, he added, was under control.
Thousands of protesters started had begun gathering in central Jakarta after an official vote count showed Widodo had won more than 55 percent of 154 million votes cast in the April election. This was his second win over Prabowo, a retired army lieutenant general who lost the presidential election to Widodo five years ago.
With early results predicting a clear win for Widodo, his challenger alleged foul play in the voting despite a widespread consensus that the election had been largely well-run. On Tuesday, Prabowo continued to challenge the vote and vowed to take his case to the Constitutional Court.
His supporters gathered Tuesday morning near the election supervisory agency in central Jakarta, where tensions have been running high since the election. Muslims are marking the holy month of Ramadan. After breaking their fast and attending evening prayers, more demonstrators appeared.
Police said these protesters were violent, unlike earlier ones, and broke through security barriers protecting the election agency, throwing rocks and torching cars. Some threw molotov cocktails at a police dormitory, authorities said.
Videos from Tuesday evening showed rioters throwing fireworks and pelting police with rocks. Police responded with tear gas and water cannons.
“They were very brutal,” said Muhammad Iqbal, a spokesman for the Indonesian police. The protests were “by design,” he said, and “not spontaneous.”
Local media reported hundreds of injuries and several fatalities, but Iqbal said police had yet to confirm a death toll. More than 40,000 police and army personnel were on duty to keep order in the city.
Dedi Prasetyo, another spokesman for the national police, said more than 62 protesters were arrested. Among them were three people carrying guns on Tuesday who admitted they planned to use the firearms in demonstrations the next day, he said.
Police also said rioters had smuggled rocks and fireworks into central Jakarta via ambulance overnight. Some demonstrators were caught with envelopes stuffed with cash, presumably to pay others to join them, police said.
Authorities have characterized the demonstrations as orchestrated. The protests were organized by hard-line Islamic groups that have called for Prabowo’s supporters to come out in force to show their dissatisfaction with the results. The retired general had stoked nationalist and religious sentiment ahead of the vote, portraying himself as the only person capable of defending Islam in the majority-Muslim country.
In recent days, police have arrested three pro-Prabowo activists on suspicions of treason, the Associated Press reported. Among them was a retired general and former commander of Indonesia’s special forces.
Speaking Wednesday at a news conference — at the same time as the president — Prabowo seemed to imply that it was the police who had started the chaos.
“We plead with the [state apparatus] not to hurt the people’s hearts, especially not to hit and shoot them,” he said. “If this happens again, we’re very worried that the tapestry of our nation will be broken and hard to fix.”
Still, Widodo’s win and the smoothly run election mark the solidifying of democracy in Indonesia since the end of dictator Suharto’s rule in 1998. Indonesia and majority-Muslim Malaysia have both bucked regional trends, their democracies growing more resilient and entrenched as other countries in Southeast Asia slip further into authoritarian rule.
“The reelection of Jokowi is worth applauding simply because it came via an electoral process untainted by executive interference,” said Lee Morgenbesser, an expert in Southeast Asian politics at Griffith University in Australia, using the president’s nickname.
Morgenbesser, who studies elections under authoritarianism, noted that elections in countries including Cambodia and Thailand in recent years suffered from “severe problems of manipulation and misconduct.”
“Given the long history of fraudulent elections in Southeast Asia, it is worth celebrating the rare moments when the will of the people is actually translated into a free and fair result,” he added.
Widodo, a soft-spoken former furniture salesman, promised in a victory speech Tuesday to be a protector to all Indonesians. He swept the vote in areas with large religious minority populations, notably the island of Bali and the Christian-heavy region of Papua. In his campaign, he emphasized infrastructure development and anti-poverty projects.
Widodo’s victory five years ago generated no mass protests in Jakarta. This week’s demonstrations reflect the increasing confidence of hard-line groups after a string of victories, said Yoes C. Kenawas, a research fellow at Atma Jaya University’s Institute of Public Policy. Those wins have included the removal of a popular Jakarta governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, in 2017 over a religious misstep.
Since the Jakarta governor’s ouster, increasingly assertive hard-line Islamic groups have adopted a posture of opposition to the state.
“Generally, this is the culmination of that rivalry,” Yoes said. “While the state has material resources, the other camp wants to balance the power by claiming the symbolic power.”
Mahtani reported from Hong Kong.