Subject: Protest Jakarta style
Date: Tue, 29 Dec 1998 10:57:20 +0930
I'm unsure if this report was put on while I was away.
It is late but I think for all you regular protestors out there you might like to read
about my first experience of an East Timorese demonstration in Jakarta
7 December 1998 Jakarta About 250 East Timorese wearing Referendum headbands gathered this morning out the front of the UN building in Jakarta (coincidentally across the road from McDonalds). The demonstration was organised by IMPETTU, the East Timorese student organisation for students studying in Java. The students had come in from 12 branches including Malang, Salatiga, Bandung, Yogya, Semarang, Surabaya and Bali to join the Jakarta students to protest the Indonesian invasion of their homeland 23 years ago. Many of them would have been born around the time of the invasion. One of the organisers, Lito was 2 and held in his mothers arms as she was shot. She was 5 months pregnant at the time. With their banners demanding withrawal of the troops, referendum and freedom for Xanana they took over one lane of the road. A small number of police seemed happy to allow them to stay there and directed traffic around the protest. It wasnt till I crossed the road to buy more film that I saw 30 or so military lounging around the shopping centre waiting to be called over if needed.
The demonstration was in typical Timorese style, passionate speeches, viva Xananas, viva Timor Lestes, arms high in the v-sign, punching the air, and plenty of singing and dancing. A small contingent were allowed in to see a UN representative with a petition which deeply regretted the slowness of the UN process to settle the problem of East Timor and demanded
The Timorese then began marching to the US embassy two blocks away. Again with the support of the police. But the high spirits and progress was brought to a halt when people realised that entry into the actual embassy street was blocked. The polisi had parked two trucks across the street and filled the gap with about 6 rows of military and police. Some had rifles but the front rows just had batons. I was told that the next main road was Danger Zone 1 near the National monument and there are no demonstrations allowed. Much negotiation took place but the wall of troops remained so the young Timorese students did the sensible thing and sat down and had lunch which the organisers provided (water and rice). One police truck was well used by the media and the speakers! No complaints from the police.
More dancing singing speeches and finally a representative appeared from the US embassy expressing the hope that they would not try to force their way thru and he was happy to take any letter but he could not stay and left for a meeting. The letter to the US Embassy asked for the US to corroborate with the UN to follow up on a resolution for East Timor and support IMPETTUs demands to the UN. The crowd went on with their speeches but the organisers looked nervous. After some time there was a scuffle near the military and 3 students broke through and ran into the busy main road. They were soon captured and arrested. The atmosphere immediately changed. I turned and saw marching in from the other end of our street 5 or 6 rows of well-padded riot police. My stomach turned. More military swarmed in from Danger Zone 1 and the students were quickly surrounded. I jumped onto a ledge with many others and watched as the military circle in strict unison moved in crowding the Timorese into a small space. I was waiting for the batons to be raised but they stopped. The students were told they had 20 minutes to leave or they would be arrested. They said we will leave when our three friends are returned. They sat down and everyone waited for a tense 20 minutes, 30, 40. The media with their videos, camera and mobile phones were encircled with the students which made me a little less tense and there were many onlookers. We were well placed out the front of the main press building in Jakarta housing Reuters, AP etc
The man from the US embassy returned and pushed his way to the centre. The sight of him talking on his mobile phone also reassured me a little. A few students started talking to their encirclers and the mood became a little lighter. The image of batons and blood flying began receding from my mind. Finally to my surprise, the three captured Timorese were returned and the encircled students did a lap of shaking hands with the military. The circle was opened and it was over. The high spirits returned. Empty buses were somehow commandeered to take all the protestors to LBH (a legal aid organisation) to check if everyone was safe. I, along with the others, was suitably sunburnt, thirsty and exhausted having just experienced my first protest Jakarta style.