Jakarta Closes Notorious Stadium Nightclub

Shocked by the drug overdose death of a 22-year-old policeman, authorities Tuesday swooped down and closed a huge nightclub complex in the heart of Jakarta that had operated for 16 years with impunity despite its location not far from the Presidential Palace.

“The permit has been revoked permanently so they cannot operate, forever,” Jakarta tourism office head Arie Budhiman told the media after the closure of Stadium, as the complex was called. “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 death of North Sulawesi police officer Jicky Vay Gumerung, 22, after he allegedly took ecstasy and methamphetamine there on Friday. The decision to close the club apparently was taken by Basuki, the Jakarta deputy governor, who along with his boss, governor and presidential candidate Joko Widodo, is winning his spurs as a reformer.

Regular customers say drug use was wide open at the popular club, which accommodated as many as 2000 people at any given time, despite Indonesia’s stiff drug laws, which range up to death for the production, transit, import and possession of psychotropic drugs and narcotics.

There have been numerous late-night raids at the building although they usually amounted to few arrests and appeared to be more shakedowns than real crackdowns. Indeed, many were laying bets whether Stadium would actually remain closed, or would reopen when the heat dies down. It is said to be owned by mogul Rudi Rajamas, who is said to own other nightclubs throughout Jakarta including a nearby spa complex. Police didn’t tell the media whether the people who ran Stadium would be implicated.

"It was like a parallel universe," said one occasional customer. "You enter a place filled with heaving bodies and emerge sometimes days later wondering what you have been up to."

At odds with Indonesia's reputation as a Muslim-majority country, Stadium was as wide-open a place in terms of drugs and sex as anything Bangkok or Manila have to offer. Even during the Holy Month of Ramadan, Stadium kept rocking with the apparent protection from the police. The odd drug raid was always felt to be cosmetic.

Prostitutes were on offer throughout the place and each floor had its own short-time hotel. The dark corners of the cavernous upstairs dance floor were rife with pimps, hustlers, drug dealers and pickpockets. The clientele ranged from socialites and slumming millionaires to college kids and tourists aware of Stadium’s reputation as an anything goes venue.

The most popular beverage was bottled water because ecstasy is said to produce a powerful thirst for those dancing the night away to the latest techno and house music.

"I used to warn my young expat employees not to go there," said one executive. "I was afraid they might get set up in a crooked police bust just because they are young and vulnerable. That kind of thing happens at Stadium."

The closure – if it’s indeed permanent ‑ hardly dents the raucous nightlife in north Jakarta, where the club is located. There are numerous massive nightclubs in the neighborhood with a similar appeal plus high-end karaoke joints featuring imported Chinese girls and a range of so-called spas that would more accurately be called bordellos.

Nightife venues big and small in Jakarta and elsewhere routinely pay protection money to police and other entities. If they run afoul of the authorities, they may face a raid from the violent, ostensibly fundamentalist Islamic Defender's Front, who periodically bust up the furniture and demand that women cover up, but most nightlife operators say that can be fixed also with a strategic payment to the protectors of virtue.

Nonetheless, the tourism office’s Arie said the closure should serve as a warning to other clubs in the area to tone down their activities or face similar action.

Despite the numerous other cases, Stadium appears to have been a special one, winning mention in the Lonely Planet Guide. “We have been to clubs all through Bangkok, Saigon, Phnom Penh, KL, Singapore but nothing in Southeast Asia came close to Stadium,” wrote one bug-eyed visitor in Lonely Planet’s comment section. ”It’s the first club I've ever left at 9am that still had a packed dance floor of 1,000 people, and others still coming in, and opens 9 pm Friday to 9 am.”

“We’ve arrested people in nightclubs before, those who do drugs and those who sell them inside clubs,” Jakarta Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Rikwanto told The Jakarta Globe 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.”

The club was said to have toned down its activities following Joko’s election as governor in 2012, but later opened with a an expensive new laser light system and moved back into high gear. 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.”

“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 on recreational users — but results have been extremely poor. We need a new, more cost-effective and evidence-based strategy.”

With reporting from the Jakarta Globe