Police have claimed the firing of tear gas during a book launch by reggae musician Ras Muhamad at the Tee Box Cafe in South Jakarta on Sunday evening was justified.
“The cafe management requested police to help disperse the crowd as the venue was so overcrowded they could not handle the situation,” Jakarta Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Rikwanto told reporters on Monday, dismissing allegations that officers had acted unprofessionally.
He said that 12 South Jakarta Police personnel were immediately deployed to the scene as backup.
According to police, the Negeri Pelangi book launch, in which the Foreign Ministry was also involved, was due to be held in a room that could only accommodate around 100 people.
However, as the event also included performances by several reggae musicians, the number of people trying to get into the event swelled to approximately 450.
Rikwanto said that 200 people had already forced their way into the 100-people-capacity room, with around 250 more trying to get inside.
“There was a glass door separating those inside and outside,” he said.
“People outside were already tossing things here and there, and were pushing each other. Somebody could have been hurt if we hadn’t stop them.”
He said police had tried to persuade the crowd to disperse and go home as the cafe management had decided to postpone the show.
“However, the mob became even uglier. Police then decided to use tear gas to avoid any casualties,” Rikwanto said.
Police have questioned three people in connection with the incident, including members of the cafe management and the book launch committee.
Cafe marketing manager Dessi Tobing said at the South Jakarta Police precinct that her team thanked the police for their swift response.
“Otherwise, the glass doors and windows would have been broken, and many people would have got hurt,” she said.
Dessi acknowledged that the committee had not requested beforehand a mass-gathering permit from the police that is required to hold such an event. Police have confirmed the absence of the necessary permit.
Dessi said the cafe management did not anticipate that the audience would be so large.
In response to the police’s actions, Indonesia Police Watch have called on the National Police to dismiss the South Jakarta Police chief and make a public apology over the incident.
The watchdog chairman, Neta S. Pane, said in a press statement that police had acted unprofessionally and brutally on the night. ( fzm )