Moral Dilemmas – Tanjung Priok (2010)

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.

Habib Rizieq in negotiating mode

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.

16 Responses to “Moral Dilemmas – Tanjung Priok (2010)”

  1. miko says:

    I must say if those "public order" officials got a bit of a hiding from the folks up in Tanjung then I say hell rub it up 'em, it's been a long time coming. You see these wannabe cops everywhere, swanning around breaking up market stalls, wrecking warungs and harassing the three in one jockeys, don't get me wrong, if people are breaking the law they need to be dealt with but it's the swaggering arrogance of these little two bit traffic wardens that sets my teeth on edge.
    I agree that the government needs to tread very warily, Tanjung Priok should hold very bitter memories for any Indonesian government officials who believe they can just kick people around, and this is just the sort of unexpected "event" that I mentioned in a post on another blog that could kick off out of nowhere and lead to a whole heap of trouble, I hope the lads in charge know what they are doing.

  2. Valkyrie says:

    Give them a set of uniform and they're immediately transformed into being lords of the land.They deserved the whipping, unfortunately. 

  3. Miko says:

    In fairness I'd like to point out that I wrote my comment above before we discovered that three public order officials had actually been killed in the riot, that is appalling and no matter what I think about their casual brutality when going about their affairs I still don't believe being lynched by a mob is the appropriate response. My sympathies are with the families of the deceased and it should also be pointed out that there are disturbing reports that one or two of the rioters, teenage boys mainly, are apparently still missing and may well have fallen victim to the police.
    Furthermore the role of "mediators" in the dispute played by the FPI is very disingenuous given that in all probability they were behind a lot of the initial planning of the trouble.

  4. Jakartass says:

    Miko is quite right.

    I initially 'blamed' Pemuda Pancasila for the mayhem, not realising that the out-of-control folk in quasi police riot gear were public order folk employed by City Hall – officials, yet with mostly contract workers with minimal education requirements (junior high school grads) and a 'salary' of Rp.1.2 million (c.$125) per month.

    There is a history to this 'holy' place – it was the original site of a preacher who introduced Islam to the area – going back 300 years, and City Hall should have recognised the sensitivities of the area residents who have long protected the site.

    Ultimately, blame must rest with the Jakarta Governor for lacking foresight, or democratic principles. That the mayhem has generated a negotiated probable win-win solution (an underpass allowing access to the 'heritage' site) is a strong indication that it behoves the administration to involve citizens in the plans that involve them.

  5. anong says:

    Has everyone forgotten the presumption of innocence? Im sorry to say, but bloggers (and their commentators) need to heed and seek facts too before casting blame

  6. Jakartass says:

    Ah, Anong, I agree, but given the shocking live footage there were immediate reactions.

    I've asked Miko to put together a coherent post so please wait for more typical Jakartass-type considered writing.

    He's emailed me as follows: "I'll try to put something together, it will mainly be a synopsis of what actually occurred with some background info and will mostly be taken from local media sources. It does strike me as an important issue and one worth discussing and I'm surprised it hasn't attracted more interest on the blogosphere."


  7. ultratupai says:

    The Tanjung Priok Incident

    "On Friday, September 8, 1984, Platoon Sergeant Hermanu entered a prayer room in the Tanjung Priok harbor area without taking off his shoes, then used water from a storm drain to remove posters displayed outside, triggering as explosion of violence that echoes even today. Two days later, the prayer room manager and several local residents sought Hermanu and an argument ensued in which the crowd set fire to the sergeant's motorcycle, leading to the arrest of four people by the North Jakarta Military Area Command. A local Muslim figure, Amir Biki, demanded the release of the detainees by 11 p.m. on September 12. As the deadline passed, Amir Biki led a massive march toward military headquarters. When troops blocked the way, the crowd pushed forward and the soldiers opened fire, injuring fifty-four, leaving at least twenty-four dead, including Amir Biki, and sparking extensive rioting and arson that claimed an uncounted number of lives. In January 1985, the government brought the original four detainees to trial under the criminal code, while three others involved in the march were brought to court under subversion laws. Trials of the military on charges of human rights abuse did not occur until 2004, and the exoneration of retired generals Pranowo and Sriyanto Muntransan by local courts caused a public outcry demanding their retrial by an international rights tribunal."
    from:  Indonesia in the Soeharto Years: Issues, Incidents, and Images (Lontar, 2005)
    The retrial of Pranowo and Muntransan never happened.
    I bet Amir Biki is buried in that same contested cemetery.
    I bet that the local people of the area remember this 1984 incident.
    I bet that history (especially when it comes to Jakarta) repeats itself.

  8. anong says:

    Can anyone explain to me in some logical way to the main connection between the acts and actions in these two events, given the span of about 25 years?

  9. Jakartass says:

    The logic of religions is based on historical connections, Anong.

    Both Tanjung Priok 'incidents' were the result of officialdom trampling on local sensitivities, the first in a mosque and this week in what Gov. Fuzzy Bodoh is belatedly declaring a 'heritage site'.

  10. ultratupai says:

    Thanks J.  I would add that the point I really wanted to make is that Jakarta is trapped in its own history. The problems of the city in 1984 – flooding, poor sanitation, traffic, air pollution, the urban poor, corruption, the army/police, the lack of civil society, the lack of human rights, the lack of justice look the same now as they did then. Soeharto or not seems not to matter.
    The people who have run the city (and are running it now) have consistently promoted it in an image which is at odds with the people who are living in it  just trying to make a life for themselves. I would bet good money that the folks of Tanjung Priok know very well the events of 1984.  The wives and mothers and daughters and sisters of the victims of 1984 likely have loved ones buried in that same cemetery that was being contested just a few days ago.

  11. anong says:

    Perhaps UT. But i thought I read that all remains were removed quite a number of years ago, I appreciate your well make point about "being trapped".  But maybe you are just a tad too eager to join the dots…

  12. Jakartass says:

    Maybe I've missed something, or read too much, but I thought that the grave of Mbah Priok was also moved a few years back.

    It's only a holy site because that is where he was originally entombed.

    If I wrong, then I remain confused because the TV only showed the gateway and what appeared to an empty plot beyond.

  13. ultratupai says:

    oh well,

    BERITAJAKARTA.COM — 4/17/2010 6:17:22 PM

    The presence of Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo in Mbah Priok graveyard on Jl Ex TPU Dobo, Koja, North Jakarta, Thursday (4/15), made people`s heart calm down and was warmly welcomed by the heir of Habib Hasan bin Muhammad Al Hadad (Mbah Priok) and his followers. During the visit to meet Habib Salim Umar Alatas, who is also NU member, there was a conversation from heart to heart. The meeting ended by saying salawat for Prophet Muhammad, as an expression of public gratitude. The Habibs and people who were present on that occasion also did a prayer to governor`s late father.

    "The arrival of the governor is like a 200-year heat in summer replaced by a one-day rain. That was what the people in Mbah Priok graveyard felt, including the heir," said Habib Salim Umar Alatas, Jakarta Head of Islamic Defender Front (FPI), Friday (4/16).

  14. anong says:

    I am trying to estimate how many descendents Mr Ricebowl had. He died at 29 but may have had a team of wives, so hard to calculate how many are his ahli waris down at the docks

  15. Jakartass says:

    More info uncovered, source Jakarta Post 23.4.10.

    The remains of Arif Billah Hassan bin Muhammed Al Haddad, more conveniently known as Mbah Priuk, were reburied in Semper public cemetery on August 31st, 1997 – 14 years ago!

    Al Haddad's "alleged" heirs, including Jabib Salim bin Umar Al Athos, chairman of the Jakarta branch of the hardline Islam Defenders' Front (FPI), held weekly Koran recitals and anniversary celebrations at the shrine to honour Mbah Priuk's role in propagating Islam in the area.

    Semper is about a mile (1.5 kms) away.

    So the FPI et al have been 'celebrating' at an empty plot of land. 

    Unless they're seeing a ghost.

  16. Valkyrie says:

    So, what was that ruckus really about??? It sure smells of religious politics.

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