Having gotten in to Jakarta, before I’d properly settled down I was bombarded with warnings about a big protest. My father shot me a message which was great, it was all over the news too. The Department of Foreign Affairs in Australia put out a warning to stay away (which naturally I ignored) and with 18,000 or so police and military being deployed I was expecting something pretty big. The protest was sparked by the governor making negative comments about the Quran. The inherently crazy nature of protesting about someone else’s use of free speech (and his comments were rather tame) was a bit of a wake up call in reminding me that I’m not in Australia anymore.
Despite deciding to head right in to the thick of things (probably a rather stupid decision) I was totally focused, maintaining my situational awareness and consistently figuring out where I’d go if I needed to get away in a hurry. That said overall it was a rather calm and peaceful protest. I began by heading around the outskirts of the protest, most of the military and protesters where just lazing around in the 37 degree heat. Lots of smiles from passers by, nothing to suggest violence was likely.
I was a little concerned about the quantity of people and vehicles. There were parked cars and bikes covering half of the street in some places basically making the two kilometre radius around the protest an endless series of bottlenecks and general chaos. Because it didn’t look like mass rioting was going to be an issue I decided to power on to the centre of the protest.
I got to the point where I couldn’t continue; a sea of people blocked my way standing and listening to a guy screaming in to a megaphone. The protest was so big that there were multiple angry megaphone dudes every couple of blocks to keep the mass of people all entertained with whatever they were ranting about. I didn’t want to join the crowd and look like I was part of the protest so I found a good vantage point on an overpass before heading back to the hostel. Going by news report a tiny minority of people got violent towards the end and threw some bricks. One person died of an asthma attack and another twelve-or-so were injured (mostly police). That’s just from memory though so look it up if you want the facts.
I thought the reporting of the protest was utter rubbish and exaggeration though, statements like, “The streets of Jakarta erupted into violence” (Sydney Morning Herald) is so blatantly inaccurate and out of proportion that it’s depressing. If you think about the amount of people that are hospitalised or arrested on a Friday/Saturday night in Australia due to drunken stupidity (remembering of course Muslims don’t consume alcohol) it makes the casualties of this protest look positively tame by comparison. Heaven forbid we restrict the right of Australians to buy vodka at 0300 in the morning though…