Indonesia's flip-flop protest


An official from Indonesia's Child Protection Commission carries sandals they received by package at their office in Jakarta on Jan. 4, 2012.


Bay Ismoyo

It all started when a 15-year-old boy was accused of stealing a policeman's sandals in the northern state of Central Sulawesi.

After allegedly stealing the $3 sandals in 2010, the boy was beaten by three police officers and now faces up to five years in prison.

His trial, which has been ongoing since last month and is due to resume today, has sparked outrage among Indonesians who say the boy, like many everyday Indonesians, received unduly harsh treatment by a corrupt police force.

In retaliation, thousands of people have reportedly dropped off their old shoes at police stations as a form of protest.

Apparently it started last week, after the National Commission for Child Protection said it would take donations to buy the police officer new sandals, according to the Wall Street Journal.

People started showing up with used footwear instead.

“[The flip-flop collection] is a spontaneous movement ... It shows how people are concerned about injustice in the system,” said Sofyan Farid Lembah, the Central Sulawesi-based commissioner of the Commission for Child Protection.

“How can an underage child be facing a five-year sentence for a petty crime?”

Indonesians are fed up with the police force, which they see as the most corrupt institution in one of the world's most corrupt countries.

A string of heavy-handed actions has fueled public discontent, reports Voice of America.

Among them, in Aceh this past December police detained 65 punk musicians without charge, forcing them to undergo "re-education" that included Islamic prayers and shaving their mohawks.

Though this appears to be the first "flip-flop protest," Indonesians are known for remaining peaceful in their acts of defiance.

As Sara Schonhardt wrote in her piece for GlobalPost, "2011: a year for self-immolations," Indonesians are known more for peaceful acts of protest than for the tragic act that made headlines at the end of 2011.

When news broke here in early December that a young Indonesian student had doused himself in gasoline, lit a match and ran flaming toward the presidential palace, Indonesians reacted with shock and confusion. ...

... his would be the first self-immolation in Indonesia, a country where protesters are more often polite and peaceful than rambunctious, even in large numbers.