Jakarta's bid to clear red-light area upsets residents

Government workers removing a beer advertisement in front of a brothel in the Kalijodo red-light district. The Jakarta administration is pushing forward with a plan to clean up the area and relocate some 300 residents.
Government workers removing a beer advertisement in front of a brothel in the Kalijodo red-light district. The Jakarta administration is pushing forward with a plan to clean up the area and relocate some 300 residents.PHOTO: TEMPO

JAKARTA • A plan by Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama to close down the city's biggest red-light district of Kalijodo and turn it into a "green open space" is facing stiff resistance from residents and alleged gangs in the area.

The authorities say buildings in the area were built without proper permits, while a lawyer representing the residents retorted that many mosques and churches there do not have permits either.

The red-light area straddles Penjaringan district in North Jakarta and Tambora district in West Jakarta. Spread over 2.8ha, it is open 24 hours a day and caters mostly to the middle- and lower-income, the Jakarta Post reported.

The move to clean up Jakarta's underbelly follows an accident last week when a drink driver hit a motorcycle in the area, killing four.

Backed by the military, hundreds of police officers will reportedly be deployed to close down the area.

Some 300 residents will be affected by the forced relocation and be moved to low-cost apartments elsewhere.

But some locals have vowed to fight Mr Basuki's plan. Their lawyer, Mr Razman Arif Nasution, said his clients were shocked by the callous way in which they were informed of the eviction - by notices put up on the walls of buildings in the area.

"They are not animals. Just come here and discuss the plan with us," said Mr Razman, of his clients.

Accusing the administration of discrimination, he said many prostitution hot spots can also be found in upmarket areas, such as Mangga Dua and Pesing, but no action has been taken against them.

However, Mr Basuki is determined to complete the eviction this month, ahead of a summit in the city for United Nations member countries joining the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation on March 6 and 7.

"You cannot call it inhumane. There isn't enough space here in Jakarta," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 18, 2016, with the headline 'Jakarta's bid to clear red-light area upsets residents'. Print Edition | Subscribe