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Critics: Indonesian Law Protects Lawmakers from Graft Probes

Indonesian members of parliament listen to President Joko Widodo's speech in Jakarta, August 16, 2017.

Critics say a new Indonesian law that took effect Thursday could protect legislators from investigations by the powerful anti-graft commission, triggering anger at what many regard as a grave setback for the world's third largest democracy.

The Law on Representative Assemblies, passed last month by the 560-member Parliament, came into force automatically after 30 days despite President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's refusal to sign it because of public opposition.

"The bill has been on my table, but I have not signed it," Jokowi said last week on Twitter. "I understand the unrest among society. We all want the quality of our democracy to improve, not to decline."

Jokowi suggested that those opposed to the law could challenge it in the Constitutional Court.

Hundreds of students staged a protest Thursday outside the court, where some groups filed requests for a judicial review of the law.

Under the legislation, an investigation of any lawmaker must first be approved by Parliament's ethics council and then receive written permission from the president.

A number of legislators have been convicted of corruption and former House Speaker Setya Novanto is currently facing trial for alleged involvement in one of the country's biggest corruption scandals.

The law also allows prosecution of Indonesians whose actions could be regarded as disrespecting Parliament and parliamentarians.

It also stipulates that legislators can compel police to present anyone needed to be questioned by Parliament.

"This is an alarm for our democracy," said Refly Harun, a constitutional law expert. "These controversial articles are very excessive."

He said Parliament should protect the people instead of threatening them.

Indonesia is the world's third largest democracy after India and the United States.