JAKARTA — An 22-year-old Indonesian man has died after setting himself on fire near the presidential palace, according to police, in what is believed to be the country’s first self-immolation protest.
The man, identified as student Sondang Hutagalung, died on Saturday after he was taken to hospital with 98 percent burns, Jakarta police spokesman Baharudin Djafar told AFP.
“He died yesterday from a sizeable percentage of burns on his body after setting himself on fire. We still don’t know what caused him to immolate himself,” he said.
Local media reported that Hutagalung had doused himself in petrol and torched himself near the state palace on Wednesday before running towards a billboard bearing the photograph of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Witnesses told the Jakarta Globe newspaper he had shouted anti-government messages.
But Djafar said it was “not possible” to say he was protesting against the government or the president.
“He was the perpetrator as well as the victim. Only he had the answer — we couldn’t guess his motive,” he said.
“But we hope nobody will repeat such an act. If you’re unhappy with anything, you may protest but please do so without hurting yourself and others.”
Presidential adviser Daniel Sparingga said on Thursday that Yudhoyono had been informed of the incident and “expressed his sympathy and concern”.
Protests are common in Indonesia but the self-immolation is believed to be the first of its kind in the world’s third-largest democracy of 240 million people.
Yudhoyono’s popularity rankings have slumped despite strong economic growth, amid corruption and incompetence across all levels of the state. He was sworn in at the start of his second five-year term on October 20 2009.
The first Indonesian president to be directly elected after decades of authoritarianism, Yudhoyono has won two clear mandates with promises of tough action on corruption, but is seen as too weak and indecisive to take on powerful vested interests.