Jakarta governor declares war on vice

The infamous Alexis Hotel in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta must cease operations as its business permit was not renewed by Governor Anies Baswedan's new administration over allegations of prostitution and other "immoral practices".
The infamous Alexis Hotel in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta must cease operations as its business permit was not renewed by Governor Anies Baswedan's new administration over allegations of prostitution and other "immoral practices".PHOTO: REUTERS

Crackdown on seedy nightspots sets City Hall on collision course with business body

Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan has taken aim at seedy nightspots in the capital, after shutting down the infamous Alexis Hotel over allegations of prostitution and other "immoral practices".

"Today we have fulfilled our promise," Mr Anies said on Monday, following the announcement that the hotel must cease operations after its business permit was not renewed by the new administration.

His remarks have put City Hall on a collision course with the Jakarta Entertainment Business Association, which has demanded that Mr Anies produce hard evidence to support his allegations.

The association's chairman, Mr Erick Halauwet, took issue with how enforcement action against Alexis Hotel was carried out, arguing that its permit was cancelled without any prior warning or formal investigation by the administration. "If the governor continues to remain arrogant, then we will file a lawsuit," he told Tempo news yesterday.

Touted as a "dreamland for men", Alexis Hotel was targeted by Mr Anies when he campaigned for the top job in Jakarta on the back of support from conservative Muslims.

Among other things, he promised to rid the capital of prostitution and campaigned hard on the issue, accusing his predecessor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, of turning a blind eye to the vice activities at the hotel while evicting squatters at the Kalijodo slums, which was also known as a red light district.

When asked if there were plans to cancel the permits of other nightlife entertainment businesses, Mr Anies responded that it was "possible".

The city governor and his deputy, former businessman Sandiaga Uno, were sworn in just two weeks ago, and many were surprised by the decision last Friday not to renew the hotel's business permit.

Alexis Hotel has denied Mr Anies' allegations during a hastily organised press conference on Tuesday, where its legal representative, Ms Lina Novita, maintained that it had not violated any regulations and appealed to City Hall to renew the permit.

"We are ready to implement changes to our management practices in accordance with the administration's instructions," she said at the press conference at the hotel.

The hotel in North Jakarta is home to arguably one of the city's largest men's clubs, which Mr Anies has repeatedly accused of being a cover for the flesh trade.

Prostitution is illegal in Indonesia, a country with the world's largest Muslim population. Many Muslim groups, including the hardline Islam Defenders Front, urged Mr Anies to close the hotel during the gubernatorial election earlier this year.

Mr Anies insisted that his decision not to renew the permit for Alexis Hotel was based on evidence collected during an undercover investigation which he had ordered.

He declined to share details about the probe but confirmed that the hotel had 104 foreigners - all women with work passes - on its payroll.

They include, among others, two from Kazakhstan, five from Uzbekistan, 36 from China and 57 from Thailand.

Similar investigations were being conducted covertly on other similar establishments and they too would be shut down once there was sufficient evidence, Mr Anies said.

While the governor's war on vice has been lauded, some observers have expressed concern that the crackdown will only result in driving prostitution underground and lead to other criminal and social problems.

"Crime will only move, change its time, change its shape, or change its operating model," said Mr Kisnu Widagso, a criminology expert from Universitas Indonesia.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2017, with the headline 'Jakarta governor declares war on vice'. Print Edition | Subscribe