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Indonesia Increases Its Own War on Drugs


An Indonesian policeman checks crystal methamphetamine from China after a raid at Anyer beach in Serang, Banten province, Indonesia, July 13, 2017. (Antara Foto/Asep Fathulrahman via REUTERS)

Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is again urging an increase in efforts to fight illegal drugs in the country.

Jokowi said police should shoot foreign drug dealers who “resist arrest.” He added that the country is in a “narcotics emergency position.”

Jokowi made his comments at a political event in late July. Days before the speech, police shot and killed a Taiwanese man for resisting arrest. Police say he and several others were trying to smuggle 1,000 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine into Indonesia.

Recently, Jakarta Police Chief General Adham Azis said he would “not think twice” about dismissing police officers who were not fighting drug trafficking enough.

In addition, the Ministry of Law and Human Rights recently announced a plan to place all people currently jailed for drug offenses into four prisons. The prisons in West Java, North Sumatra, Central Java and Central Kalimantan would get increased security, news reports say.

Human rights groups raise concerns

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has called for strong measures against drug suspects.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has called for strong measures against drug suspects.

The New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch has criticized Indonesia’s campaign against drug trafficking.

In a statement, the group said, “President Joko Widodo should send a clear and public message to the police that efforts to address the complex problems of drugs and criminality require the security forces to respect everyone’s basic rights, not demolish them.”

The aim of Indonesia’s campaign is to stop the flow of the low-cost drug crystal methamphetamine. It is similar to the effort of President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. He has been criticized for his violent campaign against drug crimes. Thousands of drug dealers and users have been killed.

Last month, Indonesian officials seized the largest amount of crystal methamphetamine in the history of the country.

The head of Indonesia’s narcotics agency, General Budi Waseso, called for a war on drugs -- similar to the one in the Philippines -- last September.

He told Australia’s ABC news agency, “The market that existed in the Philippines is moving to Indonesia, the impact of President Duterte’s actions is an exodus to Indonesia.”

The head of Indonesia's anti-narcotics agency Budi Waseso says narcotics is being pushed to Indonesia from the Philippines..
The head of Indonesia's anti-narcotics agency Budi Waseso says narcotics is being pushed to Indonesia from the Philippines..

Severe punishments for drug crimes

Drug trafficking can carry a death sentence in Indonesia which considers the offense as serious as murder or terrorism.

People found guilty of low-level drug crimes are estimated to make up 70 percent of Indonesia’s prison population.

Erasmus Napitupulu is with the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform in Jakarta. He said there are many question about President Jokowi’s drug policy. He criticized the death sentence as putting a big burden on Indonesia’s justice system.

“The death penalty targets small drug couriers, which in many cases leads to unfair trials. Indonesian law has not been able to bear the burden of fair trial(s),” he said.

Southeast Asian countries have resisted lightening punishments for drug users or traffickers. Besides Indonesia and the Philippines, other countries in the area, including Singapore, want to continue with harsh punishments for drug crimes.

Last year, however, Thailand considered changing the criminalization of methamphetamine because prisons were becoming overcrowded.

But there are no similar signs in Indonesia.

In 2015, Jokowi led an anti-drug campaign that resulted in the execution of 14 people for drug offenses.

But, critics say that the severe punishments have not reduced the number of crimes. Claudia Stoicescu is a researcher at the University of Oxford.

She wrote, “Far from having a deterrent effect, the number of drug-related crimes in Indonesia increased in the months after the executions were carried out in January and April 2015.”

Other critics say increased resources used for drug-related arrests have taken money away from rehabilitation efforts. Some say those resources could be better used to help an estimated one million Indonesians addicted to methamphetamines.

Erasmus says Indonesia should learn from the experience of the United States.

The U.S. has reduced the number of arrests over small drug crimes and moved to legalize small amounts of the drug marijuana.

“If Indonesia retains capital punishment as the main solution for drug issues, then I believe it is a political decision to preserve (politicians’) image(s), not to protect actual narcotics victims,” he said.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Krithika Varagur reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

narcotics –n. drugs that have a powerful effect on the mind and body whose use is highly controlled and often illegal

demolish –v. to tear down, destroy

exodus –n. the act of a group leaving a place

couriers –n. people who carry packages or letters from one place to another

deterrent –n. something that keeps people from doing some activity

rehabilitation –n. the process of bringing someone (who is sick, injured or has a problem) back to health

retain –v. to keep

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