Updated at 3:18 p.m. ET on 2019-05-23
The death toll in two days of clashes between police and supporters of losing presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto rose to eight Thursday, as officials indicated that a group once linked to the Islamic State might have incited the violence.
Violence erupted in Jakarta on Tuesday night after protesters hurled fuel bombs, rocks and firecrackers at police outside the offices of the Election Supervisory Agency in the nation’s capital. The demonstrators torched more than two dozen vehicles, police said.
“The latest death toll is eight people,” Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan told reporters after visiting the scene of the clashes. He said 737 people were taken to hospital with injuries, including at least 79 with serious wounds.
Anies declined to reveal the cause of deaths of the eight fatalities.
Protesters disbanded Thursday morning after an overnight unrest, authorities said.
National police chief Tito Karnavian told reporters Wednesday that he believed the rioting was not spontaneous but incited by what he called “thugs” taking advantage of an otherwise peaceful protest.
Tito hinted that extremists might have been linked to the deaths as he displayed a sniper rifle, two handguns and cash that he said had been seized from suspects, who were paraded wearing jumpsuits during a news conference.
National police spokesman Muhammad Iqbal told BenarNews at least 442 people had been arrested on suspicion of attacking police and damaging property.
He said at least seven demonstrators were killed in the two days of rioting. He did not explain the discrepancy in the figures provided by the governor.
Police also did not say who was behind the killings, but the Jakarta Post quoted city police spokesman Senior Commander Argo Yuwono as saying that four of the fatalities had died of stab wounds.
Iqbal said an investigative team had been set up. He also insisted that the fatalities were rioters.
“They were not there to pray or ply their trade,” Iqbal said, adding that security personnel were only equipped with batons, shields and tear gas and no live bullets.
Unrest first broke out Tuesday night after protesters attacked police with rocks and firecrackers, forcing security forces to fire tears gas and water cannons, authorities said.
They had gathered to demand action over claims by Prabowo that the April 17 presidential election was stolen by the government of incumbent President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
The country’s election commission on Tuesday said Jokowi had garnered 55.5 percent of ballots cast in the presidential polls, beating his challenger, Prabowo, for the second time in a row. In the 2014 elections, Jokowi received 53.1 percent of the votes and Prabowo took 46.8 percent.
Police: Two people belonged to IS-affiliated group
Iqbal alleged that two people in custody belonged to a West Java-based group called the Islamic Reform Movement (Garis).
“We have identified two suspects from outside Jakarta who are affiliated with a group called Garis (Gerakan Reformis Islam or Islamic Reform Movement),” he said.
Garis’ founder, a cleric named Chep Hernawan, claimed in 2014 that he was the Indonesian head of Islamic State (IS), although he later renounced the terrorist group.
But Iqbal said Garis was affiliated with IS and had sent members to Syria.
“They stated (during questioning) that they intended to wage jihad,” Iqbal told a news conference. “This is clear that the protests were infiltrated. They wanted to trigger unrest and turn victims into martyrs.”
Chep, a Prabowo supporter, told BenarNews that he and his group had no ties to IS. He also denied that Garis members were involved in the violence.
“That's not true. That's a lie. We have nothing to do with ISIS. The police can't just accuse us of having ties to ISIS,” Chep said, using another abbreviation for IS.
He said he sent several of students from his boarding school to the scene of the protest as part of medical teams.
"They were taking injured victims to hospitals when they were stopped by Brimob (riot police) and two of the students in the ambulance were detained," he said.
He said the two teenage students had 15 million rupiah ($1,000) in cash to be donated to the poor and orphans in Bekasi, a suburb near Jakarta.
He urged the police to release them and give back the money.
Calm returns in Jakarta
Shops and restaurants were re-opening and a cleanup operation was underway Thursday in areas where rioting took place, local television reported.
This week’s unrest was one of the worst in Jakarta since a crippling economic crisis in May 1998 triggered widespread unrest that killed more than 1,000 people and forced longtime president Suharto to resign, analysts said.
Prabowo, in a video message posted online late Wednesday, appealed to the protestors to return home.
“Avoid illegal acts, always compromise and obey the law,” he said. “We have to keep in mind the greater interests of the people, so I appeal to you to be calm and patient.”
On Wednesday, Jokowi vowed to take firm action against rioters, saying there was no room for those “who seek to undermine the security, democratic process and unity of our beloved nation.
Prabowo, a retired army general, has repeatedly urged his supporters to protest peacefully after the official results of the election that were announced Tuesday, a day earlier than scheduled amid concerns about mass protests. The final vote tally nearly matched the numbers from “quick count” exit polls from independent pollsters.
A spokesman for Prabowo, Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak, said the campaign’s legal team would lodge a challenge to the election results with the Constitutional Court on Friday. The court will have until June 15 to rule on the dispute.
The government on Wednesday imposed temporary restrictions on social media and instant messaging services amid fears that photos and videos from the riot could incite “emotions.”
Facebook, Instagram and WhatApp are among social media and messaging services affected, said Rudiantara, the communication and information technology minister.
He said the restrictions could last several days and urged citizens to turn to mainstream media for news.
Meanwhile, press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Thursday urged Indonesian authorities to investigate what it said were seven attacks on journalists that had taken place during the post-election rioting.
“We call on all the protagonists, both protesters and police, to respect the work of the media by ending all acts of violence and intimidation against journalists,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, said in a statement Wednesday.
“Allowing reporters to cover these events freely is the best way to enable the public to keep abreast of this conflict and not depend on rumors at this crucial moment for Indonesian democracy,” he said.
Updated to include a statement from Reporters Without Borders.