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Facing 'narcotics emergency', Indonesia ramps up war on drugs
Sydney Morning Herald - August 6, 2017
Amid revelations that prisoners continue to operate drug syndicates behind bars, the Ministry of Law and Human Rights has come up with an ambitious plan to consolidate drug felons in four jails across the nation.
According to Corrections data the level of drug activity behind bars in Indonesia is extraordinary: of the nation's 225,000 prisoners there are 54,000 dealers and 32,000 users.
The head of the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) Budi Waseso – who advocates imprisoning drug offenders on a remote island guarded by crocodiles – goes so far as to say 50 per cent of drug circulation is controlled from prisons.
Jokowi, as he is popularly known, is once again claiming Indonesia is facing a narcotics "emergency", with the BNN pointing to five million drug users, 27 per cent of whom are "active users".
The last time Jokowi invoked this war rhetoric was in 2015, when he used a national drugs emergency to justify the executions of drug felons including Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan.
The latest crackdown has
alarmed human rights activists who point to "sinister echoes" of Philippine
President Rodrigo Duterte's "war on drugs", which has seen more than 7000
drug dealers and users killed.
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"From practice in the field, we see that when we shoot at drug dealers they go away," the National Police Chief, General Tito Karnavian was quoted saying in The Jakarta Post, in an apparent reference to the Philippines.
General Tito vowed police would be particularly firm on foreign drug traffickers, whom Indonesians largely blame for the scourge of drugs.
Shortly after Jokowi's edict, police showered an alleged crystal methamphetamine dealer, who they said resisted arrest, with seven bullets in Pekanbaru on the island of Sumatra on July 29.
However some question whether the tough stance on drugs is more about political populism than a spiralling drug emergency.
"According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, general population prevalence rates of most illegal and illicit drugs in Indonesia largely remained stable since the early 2000s," Claudia Stoicescu, a doctoral researcher at University of Oxford's Centre for Evidence Based Intervention, writes in Al Jazeera.
"Far from constituting an outlier, Indonesia's annual rates of drug consumption are similar to rates in other South-East Asian countries such as Vietnam and Myanmar and much lower than rates in the United States and much of Europe."
The Indonesian Drug Users Network (PKNI), an NGO established to fight the stigma and discrimination faced by drug users, believes Jokowi's order to shoot drug dealers who resisted arrest was made in haste.
His comments – in a speech to a political party meeting – came after four Taiwanese men were arrested and another shot dead for allegedly distributing one tonne of crystal meth in Jakarta.
"Shooting at drug dealers is a violation of human rights," PKNI project manager Arif Iryawan told Fairfax Media. "Besides, by shooting them to death the police cannot uncover their network properly. So I think killing them should be the last resort."
But GERAM – the People's Movement Against Drugs – said when the police shot dead drug dealers in the 90s the business was drastically reduced. "Whenever the government wants to uphold the law human rights stand in the way," GERAM founder Sofyan Ali told Fairfax Media.
He said Jokowi was a good president, who unlike previous presidents, "knows what he does because he goes down to the field".
"Other countries like the Philippines or the US take action whenever they see a situation that threatens their people. They forget human rights because the situation is causing a real problem," Sofyan said. "But it doesn't happen here. We fight against our own people on human rights so we may achieve nothing."
Meanwhile the plan to contain drug offenders in four prisons in West Java, North Sumatra, Central Java and Central Kalimantan was hatched after a prisoner named Aseng on Nusakambangan – Indonesia's equivalent of Alcatraz – was linked to 1.2 million ecstasy pills seized by police.
The four jails would have heightened security, including weapons and x-ray machines. Prison officers, who are often involved in jail-run drug syndicates, would be strictly vetted.
"The biggest problem right now is drug dealers [inside jails] and our officers are overwhelmed," the Security Director from Corrections, Sutrisman, told reporters.
He said the ratio of officers to prisoners was one to 62, when the recommended ratio was one to 20. "So we must take extraordinary steps by strengthening the officers, by collaborating with BNN [the national narcotics agency] and the police."