Hundreds of people rallied near the Jakarta Convention Center on Wednesday to protest the opening of the World Tobacco Asia 2012 exhibition.
The protestors were mostly students from various universities. They gathered at the JCC’s main gate, protesting the holding of the event in Jakarta. It is the second time since 2010 that the event is being held in the nation’s capital.
“We are saddened by the stance of the government that is letting its people be killed by cigarettes,” Azas Tigor Nainggolan, the chairman of the Forum of Jakarta Residents (FAKTA), shouted at the gate.
The protestors later said that about 500 of their members managed to break through and enter the tightly guarded venue that was closed to the public and only open to members of the industry.
Other protestors made sure that the alternative gate to the convention center remained blockaded to prevent visitors from getting through.
Meanwhile, anti-tobacco activists on Wednesday strongly condemned the hosting of the exhibition in Jakarta.
“This [represents disrespect] against the entire legal territory of Indonesia. This WTA [conference] is illegal because not a single side assumes responsibility for it,” Arist Merdeka Sirait, chairman of the National Commission for Child Protection, said.
Arist lamented that just after the Health Ministry announced the results of the Global Adults Tobacco Survey for 2011 that showed 67.4 percent of adults in Indonesia were smokers — the highest percentage in the world — the country was providing a welcoming atmosphere for the tobacco industry.
He said that it was clear that the government had failed to protect Indonesian children from the health hazards of smoking and had already been defeated by the cigarette industry.
Tubagus Haryo Karbyanto, a coordinator of the Anti World Tobacco Asia Society, said that the WTA summit was being held in Indonesia because the country was seen as a rising market for the cigarette industry.
“What makes us feel insulted is that our government is too friendly to the cigarette industry,” Haryo said, adding that similar protests were also being held in several other Indonesian cities.
Haryo stated that Indonesia has already been alienated internationally because it has not yet ratified the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
The holding of the WTA will only worsen matters, he added.
“The good name of Indonesia will become even worse in the eyes of the international [community], and Indonesia will be seen as uncivilized because it supports the death of millions of people” by encouraging cigarette smoking, he said.
Yoke, from the Women Network for Tobacco Control, said that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono must take firm steps to halt the degradation of Indonesia’s image as the world’s ashtray.
Zakia, a student in public health at the University of Indonesia, said that the Indonesian Student Movement for the Control of Tobacco Impacts firmly rejected the holding of the WTA meeting in Jakarta.
“While other countries refuse to host the WTA 2012, Indonesia invites [it] for the second time. This is a second insult for Indonesia,” Zakia said.
Mary Assunta Kolandai, an international tobacco control advocate from Australia, commented, “this is unacceptable and clearly shows that the cigarette industry does not want the public to know what is currently happening in that industry.”
Sofjan Wanandi, chairman of the Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo) said that the government must be wise in the campaign against tobacco without killing the tobacco industry, because the tobacco industry contributes about 10 percent to 15 percent of national income.