Muslim protests usually go peacefully in Indonesia, which is the biggest Muslim country in the world. The vast majority of people here adhere to a moderate form of Islam. But when I realised that members of Jamaah Anshorut Tauhid (JAT) – classified as a “terrorist” organization by the US – were among the protesters, I feared something bad could happen.
I was right. When the protesters approached the US embassy in Jakarta, around one hundred meters away from the building, a group of people crossed the road and ran towards the US embassy. They provoked policemen posted at the barricade and started jostling them. Some protesters threw projectiles at the police.
I took a few steps back when police started firing tear gas, and tried to reach higher ground (to get a better vantage point) as the situation spun out of control. I stood on the concrete separators, about one meter high, in front of the embassy and started shooting the violence with ‘bird’s eye’ angle. That broad angle allowed me to capture the scene when police dragged and arrested a protester. Other protesters threw rocks from behind my position forcing me to hide between the concrete blocks and a big flower vase.
When the wind shifted towards the police (and me), they had to stop firing tear gas canisters. I took the opportunity to run towards the protesters’ side. I wound up standing between the police and the Muslim protesters, who hurled rocks from behind barbed wire.
To get the right photos, I had to get as close as possible to the rock-throwers. I had forgotten my helmet and my gas mask, but had no time to think about that. I pressed the shutter release to capture the scene until one guy came running toward me with a flaming Molotov cocktail in his hand. Automatically, my camera followed him from the moment he started running until he threw the cocktail. He was just one meter from me. It was dangerous because rocks kept coming over my head.
When the police started to use a water cannon, I ran to protect my cameras. Then police again fired tear gas to disperse the demonstrators. I choked. Everybody choked. I ran to try and get some fresh air, but it felt so hot and prickly in my throat. I saw a fire truck near the protesters and water running from its hose. I grabbed it and wipe my face so that I could breathe normally again.
AFP photographer Adek Berry is based in Jakarta and has covered most of the big stories out of Indonesia over the last decade, including the devastating tsunami in 2004, terrorist bombings and volcano eruptions. She has also done assignments in Afghanistan and, most recently, in London where she was part of the AFP team covering the London Summer Olympics.