Indonesian police on Sunday fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters at the country’s infamous “Dolly” red light district, where workers are refusing to accept government orders to close shop.
Around 300 protesters, mostly men who work as pimps or vendors in the area, tore out and set alight a sign erected by the Surabaya city that read: “This area is free from brothels and prostitution.”
The closure of one of Southeast Asia’s biggest prostitution dens was spearheaded by Surabaya mayor Tri Rismaharini, who announced last month that Dolly would be completely closed by the end of Ramadan, which fell on Sunday.
“We reject the instalment of this sign here. And after Ramadhan, we will operate as normal. We refuse to shut down,” said head of Dolly’s workers’ forum Ari Saputro, who goes by the nickname “Pokemon.”
An AFP reporter saw a protester being punched by police and then being detained with blood running from his nose.
Police fired the tear gas after workers set tyres alight, both sending a thick haze across the demonstration, dispersing protesters after around an hour.
Hundreds of sex workers, as well as others who eke out a living out of the vast red light district in Indonesia’s second biggest city, have lashed back at the closure order, complaining they will be left destitute.
Indonesia is the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation, but prostitution is common, though it is usually offered discreetly in karaoke lounges and clandestine brothels.
Dolly in eastern Java, on the other hand, is famous for openly touting women in shopfront windows, resembling Amsterdam’s red light district.
The name Dolly is believed to come from a Dutch madam who ran a brothel in the city during the Netherlands’ colonial rule of Indonesia.
Rismaharini described prostitution as “immoral” in a public event last month to announce Dolly’s closure, peppered with Islamic references.
Hardline Muslim groups have threatened violence if brothels continue to operate beyond the end of Ramadan.