This was the scene shown live on TV last Wednesday. My initial visceral response was one of outrage.
And this is what I wrote.
'Er Indoors has called me to watch live TV coverage of the clearance of a cemetery in North Jakarta by thugs from the old Suhartoist organisation Pemuda Pancasila.
Resistance from local residents has been fierce, but the reported death of a young child at the hands of these thugs is nothing less than tragic. I can't feel the same about the death of one of these thugs who have been at the beck and call of corrupt businessmen for far too long.
That they were dressed in full riot gear is 'proof', if any is needed, of my last statement.
There are nigh on 150 hospitalised and at least 3 deaths.
And that's a lot!
I don't recall scenes like this in Jakarta since the heady days of '98.
However, a time of reflection was needed, as is indicated by the first six comments below. Unfortunately, that is something I'm rather short of at the moment, so I asked frequent and eloquent commentator Miko if he could put together a post in the tradition of Jakartass – hopefully perceptive and balanced. And that is what he has done.
On the face of it the dreadful events of last Wednesday at the Koja container terminal at Tanjung Priok port seem very simple and appear to be rooted in a terrible misunderstanding which, thanks to cool heads and good sense, has now been resolved. However like so much of what happens here in Indonesia there is a huge amount behind the scenes which needs examining if one is to fully understand what occured.
The actual riot can be explained quite briefly; at the Koja Terminal there is a memorial to a revered Islamic scholar, Habib Hasan bin Muhammad Al Hadad (Mbah Priok), whose tomb is a place of pilgrimage for many Muslims from around the Tanjung Priok area and indeed from other parts of Jakarta. This memorial is on land which is claimed by the state owned port authority PT Pelindo who require it for development of the port’s facilities. Pelindo wants to remove illegally constructed buildings on the site but claim the tomb itself would not be disturbed. As is often the case ownership of the land is disputed, the heirs of Mbah Priok say they have legal title to the land whereas Pelindo say the heirs were bought out many years ago. However, with the appalling state of land registry in Jakarta and the corrupt nature of the courts it is almost impossible to be sure who the rightful owners are.
But such legal niceties have little place in what happened next. The residents of the area had been informed over the previous months that they were to be moved out and the illegal buildings removed and so on Wednesday morning the City government behaved as it usually does in these matters and sent a large detachment of Satpol PP, a quasi-police organisation used for public order problems, up to the port. Given that 2000 Satpol men in riot gear were dispatched, backed up by 600 regular policemen, it appears that the City authorities were expecting trouble. This unfortunately proved to be the case as the Satpol officials were met by a heavily armed group of several hundred residents who met them with stones, petrol bombs and machetes.
In the ensuing battle which lasted on and off throughout the day and rolled over into the grounds of a local hospital later in the night, hundreds of residents and public order officials were badly injured in scenes of quite shocking violence. Three officials were killed, many police and Satpol vehicles were burned and the Pelindo office was also ransacked. One or two residents, teenaged boys, may also be dead as their families have reported them missing but this has not been confirmed.
There are many aspects to this affair worth examining; the sudden low profile of the usually ubiquitous governor Fauzi Bowo who seems keen to deposit this particular hot potato on to the lap of his deputy Prijanto*, the role of the media in giving wall to wall live coverage of the ongoing riot including rather gory images of people being brutally beaten, and also the need for Indonesia’s most important port to be able to operate freely and safely without interference from local preman and mob violence, but for the sake of brevity I would prefer to look instead at two of the key protagonists in the riot.
Firstly the Satpol PP, undoubtedly this paramilitary municipal force is seen by many as the villain of the piece. There can be no disputing that the behaviour of Satpol officials’ in the past has been brutal and arrogant and that they have accrued a very bad reputation among the poorer sections of Jakarta’s urban masses.
They are the foot soldiers used by the Governor’s office when it needs to make a move against squatters, prostitutes, illegal stallholders, transvestites, buskers or any other of the myriad people who inhabit Jakarta’s underside. It is true that many individual Satpol behave badly in their day to day dealings with the public but it is to their employers, the city administration, and their – often corrupt – officers (who, unlike them, have fixed contracts and salaries as well as pensions) that we should look when we seek to apportion blame for such an untrained and badly paid force being used as a blunt instrument of law enforcement. One can only hope that the Governor will take heed of the lessons learned from this bloody event and endeavour to create a better trained and more professional body for the future.
If we can describe Satpol as the “losers” in all of this, the FPI (Front Pembela Islam) under their charismatic and eloquent spokesman Habib Rizieq come out as winners, appearing as they did in mid afternoon as “mediators” and then acting as the residents’ representatives at the conciliation meeting held the next day. I think it is reasonable to suspect that far from being disinterested honest brokers the FPI were probably up to their eyeballs in planning the entire confrontation from the start. One must remember that the Muslims of Tanjung Priok have a score to settle with the Indonesian government dating all the way back to September 1984 when Soeharto’s troops massacred dozens (hundreds? J.) of their supporters in a clash over the perceived desecration of a mosque in the area. The FPI are unlikely to be disappointed by the results of Wednesday’s rioting.
As the shock passes and the bereaved are left to mourn, can any good come out of Koja? Well perhaps the Jakarta city administration could take a long hard look at how it deals with its citizens, particularly the most marginalized citizens. A squatter’s shack may be an illegal construction but it is still someone’s home, an unlicensed warung may be an eyesore but at the end of the day some family’s livelihood depends upon it, to simply bulldoze them and ride roughshod over the powerless people whose meagre possessions they are serves only to strip humanity and dignity from both officials and citizens alike. Wednesday has shown that if you push people far enough eventually they kick back and as we know there are many cynical, opportunistic, even perhaps sinister forces in Indonesian society more than happy to exploit such situations.
* Fauzi Bowo's father died the day before.