The Mohawk Crusade

Feb 07, 2012
-A +A

Indonesia: Punks are the latest victims of Aceh's Shariah bylaws.

The incident also sparked outrage among local and international punk communities. Scores of ‘punkers’ took part in a solidarity action at the Hotel Indonesia roundabout in Central Jakarta on 17 December, cutting their hair in ‘mohawk’ styles in solidarity with the Aceh punks. On 19 December, a group called the Solidarity for Aceh Punks United rallied in front of the national police headquarters in South Jakarta. Three days later, hundreds of punks held a solidarity action in Yogyakarta, calling on the police to free their colleagues. In speeches, they said the arrests were a human rights violation and called on police to stop using violence.

Further afield, a Seattle-based metal and punk label, Aborted Society, initiated the ‘Mixtape for Aceh’ project on its website on 14 December, which called on punk music fans to create cassette and CD compilations of punk music. The label plans to ship the tapes to punk fans in Aceh. A day later, a group of anarchist-punks in Moscow released a video on YouTube showing them defacing the Indonesian embassy in a show of support for the Aceh punks. In the video the group can be seen spray-painting a wall with slogans in Russian reading ‘Religion = Fascism’ and ‘Punk is not a crime’. A Swedish Facebook event, ‘Support Indonesian Punks’, called on punks worldwide to post pictures of themselves in full punk attire and encouraged them to send letters of protest to the closest Indonesian embassy; 4500 people had signed up by 16 December. On 19 December, a protest was held in front of the Indonesian Consulate General in San Francisco.

Governor Irwandi dismissed this widespread international criticism, saying ‘What does it have to do with international affairs? It did not breach human rights. Don’t let foreign values make us slaves.’ The central government, meanwhile, has remained silent on the whole affair, with the exception of Social Affairs Minister Salim Segaf al-Juffrie who lamely reminded police to ‘act persuasively’ when dealing with minors.

No homeless, only punks

Following the release of the detainees on 23 December, police chief inspector Hasan said that – despite the negative worldwide attention – he is convinced that that the police acted in the interests of the punks as well as the interests of the community at large. He emphasised that the police had received strong support from the community, including from 21 Islamic organisations. But he also acknowledged that he received around 50 SMS messages containing profanity and obscenities. When asked if punks found on the streets would face arrest in the future, he replied ‘Yes, possibly,’ adding, ‘How dirty would Indonesian society be if it was filled with homeless punks in every corner of the city?’

In response to criticisms about the re-education program, Hasan claimed that the head-shavings and dunkings were a misperceived ‘tradition’ practised by police cadets. Contradicting media reports, he said detainees were ‘happy because it has been a long time since they have had a bath’, and that they were ‘enthusiastic’ about their re-education. But when asked why the police didn’t round up other homeless people in Aceh if they were so concerned about public hygiene, Hasan replied, ‘There are no homeless in Aceh, there are only punks.’

James Balowski was a founding member of the Australian-Indonesian solidarity organisation AKSI, which went on to establish Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor (ASIET) in 1996. He currently resides in Indonesia and is the moderator of the Asia Pacific Solidarity Network (APSN) website. The information for this article was sourced from a variety of English and Indonesian language news reports. For the latest news and information on Indonesia and Aceh visit the Asia Pacific Solidarity Network website.

This article was first published in Inside Indonesia.