Government: Stadium Nightclub Shuttered ‘Forever’

By Benjamin Soloway, Adelia Anjani Putri, Arientha Primanita, Christabelle Palar & Lenny Tristia Tambun on 07:39 pm May 20, 2014

Anti-narcotics agents conduct urine tests during a drug raid on Stadium in May of 2013. (SP Photo/Joanito de Saojoao)


Jakarta. After sixteen years of unbridled excess and overt debauchery just three kilometers north of the state palace, Stadium, the dark star of Jakarta’s underbelly, may finally have met its demise — at least for now.

“The permit has been revoked permanently so they cannot operate, forever,” Jakarta tourism office head Arie Budiman told the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday. “If one person used drugs, it did not mean that the club had to be shut. After the police caught the club red handed, it was proven that narcotics were trafficked there.”

Acting Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama on Tuesday called the club “outrageous” in the wake of the high profile death of North Sulawesi police officer Jicky Vay Gumerung, 22, after he allegedly took ecstasy and methamphetamine there on Friday.

Illicit activity as Stadium has long been an open secret in Jakarta, and the club, with a capacity of several thousand, has become an icon of the capital’s raucous nightlife and a venue for well known DJs. Guide book Lonely Planet said the club was “about as far from a commercial disco as you could imagine, with an interior as dark as Hades.” A sizable dragon with blood red eyes overlooked the cavernous fourth floor — the heart of the establishment — where people of all stripes danced until dawn.

The atmosphere inside the club was distinctive: “A melting-pot of human misery with an underground feel and with drugs and prostitutes easily available (just ask the waiters),” a reviewer wrote on a popular Jakarta nightlife website. “You will find all kind of people partying hard in Stadium: taxi drivers, socialites, bosses, students, expatriates.”

Beer and cocktails prevail at most bars and clubs, but Stadium did a steady trade in bottled water. Ecstasy, or MDMA, is known to cause powerful thirst, especially when combined with hours upon hours of all-out dancing.

“Young and old, foreign and local, ecstasy heads in Jakarta will be saddened by Ahok’s plan to close nightclub Stadium,” Financial Times Indonesia correspondent Ben Bland tweeted on Tuesday, referring to Basuki by his nickname.

One frequent visitor to the club told the Globe that drugs there were easy to come by.

“They barely even serve beers,” said the source, who chose to remain anonymous. “Their main business is selling bottles of water, because you know that people are selling drugs. I’ve bought drugs there, it’s easy to do. Just go up to anyone, they’re pros, they know when people are looking for it, even when you’re shy about, they’ll sell it to you pretty cheap.”

He said that he spent time in some of Jakarta’s seediest clubs doing outreach work for an organization that tried to convince underage sex workers to come to safe houses, but also because he liked the clubs, especially Stadium.

“It has the best sound system and DJs in Jakarta,” he said. “There’s a certain excitement that it brings that you can’t find anywhere else. It has none of that pretentiousness, not like the elite-looking clubs.”

Stadium was known for opening its doors on Friday afternoon and leaving them open until Monday morning.

“I have met people who flew all the way there from London or Singapore to stay there for the whole weekend, not really eating or sleeping,” the source said.

Overt drug use as stadium was particularly glaring in contrast to Indonesia’s drug penalties — among the harshest in the world. Traffickers have faced the death penalty for small quantities of marijuana and some 42 percent of the nation’s prisoners were imprisoned for drugs, although less than 1 in 500 received treatment, according to the National Narcotics Agency (BNN).

‘Evidence-based strategy’

Police have long looked the other way as the dealers at Stadium and other Taman Sari clubs peddled their wares, making occasional, low level stings but never going for the big fish. Numerous late-night raids at Stadium amounted to little more than a handful of arrests, despite the large crowds the club drew every weekend night.

“We’ve arrested people in nightclubs before, those who do drugs and those who sell them inside clubs,” Jakarta Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Rikwanto said by phone during a visit to Stadium’s now shuttered building on Tuesday. “However, this is the first [major club closure], as we just found out that the place helped the drug dealers provide drugs inside the premises.”

Elusive nightclub mogul Rudi Rajamas is alleged to own Stadium, as well as several other nightlife hotspots, including the flashy Exodus nightclub, the Malioboro Hotel and Spa, a famous strip club, and the Sumo Spa. Police did not say whether the person or people who ran Stadium would be implicated.

Following the death of an off-duty police officer, Basuki said the Jakarta administration had coordinated with the National Police’s criminal investigation division (Bareskrim) to investigate the case, adding that he had previously warned the management of the nightclub to stamp out the use of drugs on its premises.

Visitors told the Jakarta Globe that Stadium quieted down following the 2012 election of Governor Joko Widodo, only to later re-open with a new laser light system rumored to have cost more than $50,000. Despite the club’s reputation as the city’s largest — and best known — drug market, Rikwanto denied allegations that police allowed dealers to operate openly there.

“We couldn’t take action before because sometimes the drug users buy the drugs outside the place and are already high when they reach the club, or there are smalltime dealers operating there without any consent from the owners,” Rikwanto said. “Only if we can prove that the place is contributing to the drug dealing activities can we tell the Tourism Agency to close the place.”

He said police had focused on a strategy of undercover stings to combat drug use at Stadium.

“We’ve been doing undercover operations, we don’t do raids where police are yelling and checking on every customer,” Rikwanto said. “We look for those who show signs of drug use or drug dealing activities and arrest them.”

The head of the Jakarta tourism office said that the closure should serve as a warning to the other clubs, more than a dozen in the area near Stadium alone, that operated under similar conditions.

“This is a strong warning to other clubs and entertainment venues that are stubborn and allow drugs to circulate on their premises,” Arie said.

He said that the city was not afraid of losing income.

“If one gets shut down, it will not affect Jakarta’s tax revenue and regional income, because tourism will continue to grow,” he said. “If one club gets shut down, three other restaurant or two hotels will appear. So Stadium’s closure has no such effect.”


But Stadium operated with impunity for so long, and became so entrenched in the capital’s nightlife, that some club goers doubted the nightclub would stay shut for long.

“I have little faith that Stadium will actually remain closed,” a frequent visitor said. “Hidden behind these clubs are powerful people.”

Critics have argued that closing the club was not the best way to address drug use there.

“Awhile back, Stadium used to be known as the main club [for drugs],” another club goer said. “But now… the crowd has spread out. Stadium’s closure does not guarantee anything, because the use of those substances doesn’t only take place in places like that. We’re talking about rave parties in Ancol or places like the East Parking Area in Senayan, these are places people would go to use drugs. If they can use drugs in such public places, imagine what goes on in places that are more enclosed.”

A prominent drug policy reform activist said closing Stadium would have no impact on drug use in Jakarta.

“Closure will only drive people interested in the services Stadium offered underground, to even less regulated and unsafe venues,” said Edo Nasution, the National Coordinator of the Indonesian Network of People Who Use Drugs (PKNI). “This can in turn lead to more cases of overdose.  If  you look at how the state spent funds for law enforcement, Indonesia is spending a huge amount of money on strategies that criminalize and clamp down recreational users — but results have been extremely poor. We need a new, more cost-effective and evidence-based strategy.”

He said the government should try to help drug users rather than punish them or sweep them from view.

“For example, what we’ve seen work much better in countries such as the Netherlands, Australia and Germany is that regulating drugs and providing correct information to users about how to reduce the harms associated with drug use, actually saves lives and puts more people into contact with drug treatment and social services,” he said. “Clamping down on places like Stadium is a very inefficient and very costly strategy that will only lead to seedier venues popping up all over Jakarta, thus putting people at higher risk.”

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