"Indonesia has some of the World's strictest drugs laws".
This statement is repeated in most local and international media, but it is quite inaccurate if you look at the facts. A more realistic statement would be to say that Indonesia has some of the world's most inconsistent laws and policies against drugs.
The official rhetoric from the Government is that the country wants to protect the nation's children from the danger of drugs, yet the current policies are causing even more suffering while failing to stop drug use.
An example? Parents in Indonesia are required to denounce their own children if they become aware of them taking drugs. This causes drug users to hide their addiction to their family, and in the end prevent them from getting the support they need.
Unfortunately, there are quite many other troubling incoherences. I have found 13 of them as follow:
1) Sensationalistic speeches about drugs without any reliable statistical data
The National Drug Agency (BNN) has shown its incapacity in providing the public with credible statistics regarding the number of deaths from drug use in Indonesia.
This number comes out of nowhere (it might be based on surveys) and it must be used with the utmost precaution. Furthermore, this number does not say whether these people died from overdose, from suicide, or from drug-related diseases such as HIV. It does not tell as well if those deaths were from heroin, ecstasy, marijuana, misused over-the-counter drugs, etc.
Even if we consider 33 deaths per day, it means 12,045 deaths per year for a population of 250 M people. That's a 48 per million death rate.
Surprisingly, the Netherlands
, one of the countries with the less punitive drug laws on the planet, has a 10.2 per million death rate only.
If the Indonesian statistics are correct
, then we should wonder why the Indonesian death rate is 4 times
as high as in the Netherlands. What is the point of having the World's strictest laws against drugs only to fail miserably?If the Indonesian statistics are incorrect
, thus inflated, we have to wonder why would the government try to sensationalize
the drug issue?
I was reading an interview of one of Indonesia's top policemen, Budi Waseso, following the seizure of 2 tons of Marijuana. According to him, the 2 tons of marijuana could have killed 21 million Indonesians. This kind of statement is a proof of either abysmal ignorance or a deliberate will to fool people.
The Indonesian medias are also very active in spreading questionable information. Metro TV was mentioning 117,400 potential victims of marijuana per day!
2) Making the drug issue a national priority while ignoring other preventable causes of death
Let's give the benefit of the doubt to Jokowi and consider that there are indeed 12,045 drug-related deaths every year in Indonesia. This data should be compared to other causes of avoidable death in the country:
: Indonesia has more than 90,000 deaths from tuberculosis every year, a preventable and curable disease. Most of the efforts to fight it are not coming from the Government but from international aid agencies, namely the Global Fund. Read More on the NY Times: Losing the Fight Against Tuberculosis
The fight against Malaria, which used to be one of the top causes of deaths in Indonesia is mostly undertaken by International organizations as well and almost all of its funding is foreign:
|Financing of Malaria Programs in Indonesia (WHO)|Car accidents
: In 2002, there were just over 8,000 road deaths every year in Indonesia. In 2014, that number rose to almost 40,0000 deaths
, that's a 500% increase!
Yet, you don't see the Government declaring war on potholes nor many campaigns of prevention.
Tobacco kills over 200,000 persons every year in Indonesia. The number of smokers is actually rising as Indonesia is failing to tackle the issue. Isn't it ironic that the top two richest men in Indonesia are legal drug sellers -> Budi Hartono (Djarum - 16,5 billion $) and Susilo Wonowidjojo (Gudang Garam - 8 billion $)?
|Don't Quit Smoking ? Advertising for LA Lights cigarettes|
I am not saying that drug is not a problem. On the contrary, like every issue, it requires rational and pragmatic solutions. Populist, emotionally-charged speeches about "saving the nation" and "waging war on drugs", based on questionable statistics, are actually damaging. They encourage only the most punitive solutions, the ones that have failed so far everywhere else in the world.
3) Indonesia is the country in Southeast Asia that spends the less for healthcare (after Myanmar)
While the Indonesian Government talks a lot about the health of its citizens and how it is threatened by drugs, it actually spends very little for them. According to the World Health Organization, only 2,6% of Indonesia's GDP
is spent for healthcare.
This is to be compared with the spendings of the following countries: Vietnam 6,8%, Thailand 3,9%, Singapore 4%, Laos 4,5%, Malaysia 4,4%, Philippines 3,6%, China 5,1%, Cambodia 5,6%, Japan 9,5%, South Korea 6,9%.
Only Myanmar is spending less as a percentage of its GDP, namely 2%.
4) A War on Drug, but not a War on Drug-Related Deaths
The efforts of Indonesia to prevent drug-related deaths are very limited. Most harm reduction programs currently existing are actually financed and led by Foreign donors.
Drug use and the spread of HIV are intrinsically linked as it is estimated that up to 50% of injecting drug users
in Indonesia are contaminated with HIV.
Reducing the number of drug-related deaths would require fighting against the transmission of HIV through needle sharing and educating drug users about safe sex practices.
The budget to fight Aids in Indonesia
is mostly financed by International sources, not by the Indonesia Government itself. Out of $50,831,105 allocated in 2010, only $19,841,442 was financed by the domestic/public sector and the rest by International donors.
People would argue that Indonesia is a poor country and cannot afford to spend more money. What I would argue is that the Jakarta Council was able to find over $14 million dollars to purchase UPS systems that no one asked for
. It seems that money can always be found when the objective is to fill the pockets of a few.
Furthermore, Indonesia's strict drug laws have been known to worsen the difficulties for drug users. Harsh punishments will cause them to hide instead of seeking for help. If they do not have access to clean syringes, they are more likely to get HIV, and in turn, more likely to spread it to other people. The longer they are hiding, the longer the risk of spreading the disease.
It makes me very confused about the objectives of the Government. Is it trying to help drug users as it pretends it is, or is it only interested in punishing them for making the wrong choices?
5) More Indonesian on death row in foreign countries than in Indonesia itself
If we take Malaysia, it has 250 Malaysians on death row abroad, but 600 on death row in the country. This makes more sense to me.
I find such an imbalance, more inmates abroad than in Indonesia, quite revealing: Most likely, Indonesians who are arrested in Indonesia for drugs can simply buy their way out to escape the death row while Indonesians arrested abroad cannot.
What disturbs me is that it means poor people are more likely to be in jail while rich ones will not risk anything. According to Rudhy Wedhasmara
, the founder of 'Empowerment and Justice Action' (EJA) Surabaya, an NGO that helps victims of narcotics:
"We see that in practice the majority of those who are caught, then eventually sentenced to death are those who are weak, psychologically vulnerable to exploitation, and pressed for financial crush".
6) The executions target foreigners in priority, even though they represent only half of the death row inmates
Foreigners are often subjected to harsher sentences than Indonesians, unless they can bribe their way out or benefit from mysterious help (see below about incoherences).
Many people don't seem to understand how the death penalty works in Indonesia. When a death penalty sentence is given to an inmate, there is not a specific date given for his execution. He could spend the rest of his life waiting.
In fact, the one who decides about the execution is the President. He is the one who chooses who should be executed and when.
In January 2015, Jokowi hand-picked 6 persons to be executed, among which 5 foreigners. In April 2015, Jokowi selected 9 foreigners among 10 persons to be executed.
What is surprising is that there are only 35 foreigners on death row
in Indonesia and 56 Indonesians. This mean that foreigners represent 87,5% of the executed, but only 38% of the inmates
on death row.
In several cases, it has been blatant that there is a discrimination between Indonesians and Foreigners. For instance, Frenchmen Serge Atlaoui was given the death penalty but the Indonesians who were running the lab he was working at were only condemned to a life sentence
7) Indonesia is sending drug users to prison instead of rehabilitation
"These young folks who have become drug addicts have lost their past and present so we should not allow them to lose their future. We should guide them back. They don't belong in a penitentiary but in a rehabilitation centre" Susilo Bambang Yudhono
In spite of the recent efforts to build more rehabilitation facilities, 54,000 detainees in Indonesia
in 2013 were drug users, out of a total of 162,000 inmates. This should be compared to the 18,000 only who were sent to rehabilitation the same year.
The first explanation is the law itself. Even though officially, Jokowi talks about drug users as victims who should be protected, the fact is there is little differentiation made between a drug user and a drug trafficker.
Even the 2014 amendment
to the 2009 Drug Law stipulates that unless a drug user turns himself in to the police, he will face jail time. Judges and courts are themselves not following the law and sending people caught using drugs in prison most of the time.
The other issue of course is the lack of rehabilitation centers. The Government talks about building more facilities, yet it still has to act on its promise.
Because of this, the prisons are full of simple users which is even more risky for them. They are more likely to keep using drugs in prison as it is known to be widely available there while being more exposed to risks of HIV. Read more on the UNODC website
In spite of the "save our children" speech, many Indonesians have a negative view about drug users and do not seem to be interested in rehabilitated them.
8) Frequent cases of abuse of drug users by police officers, including rapes
Another incoherence about the so-called will from the Indonesian Government to protect drug users is the fact that many of them, instead of being guided by the police are actually abused.
According to this study, 60% of drug users faced police abuse during their detention time, including beating of the feet, hands, chest, and head by officers. Sexual abuses were mentioned in 6% of the testimonies.
I also advise you to read this article about girls
, sometimes prostitutes, who were gang raped by policemen so that they would not be charged with drug abuse.
Again, are we trying to punish drug users or are we trying to help them?
9) Celebrities, VIPs, Drug Lords, Policemen avoid harsher sentences
Sentencing in Indonesia is extremely arbitrary. In general, VIPs, celebrities, policemen and military officers avoid prison and go directly to rehabilitation (if not home).
For instance, when Putri Aryanti Haryowibowo, the great granddaughter of Suharto was caught using crystal methamphetamine, she avoided prison and was only sent to rehab
(I wonder if she actually went).
, a local celebrity, has not been tried yet more than 2 years after being arrested with several types of drugs.
The Head of Shariah Police in Aceh
, Zulkarnain, crashed his car into a tree in 2013. Hashish was found in his car and he tested positive for drugs. Nothing happened to him. He actually threatened a journalist that if he reported on the story he would be turned to ashes.
, from Australia, was less lucky and she spent 9 months in jail for a joint. A 14-year old Australian boy
also spent 2 months in jail for being caught with 3.6 grams of marijuana. Foreigners may have lenient sentences sometimes: Thierry Verchere did only 10 months after being caught with almost $50,000 worth of cocaine
which is strange considering another Frenchman, Vincent Petrone
, was sentenced to 6 years for 69 grams of hashish (less than $1,000 value).
If you follow Indonesian news, you will read quite often about policemen or military caught using or trafficking drugs. Some reports, though a little dated, mention that it is very common for policemen to keep the drugs confiscated or to sell them.
Yet, it is rare to hear of a policeman being jailed for drug use, and even more to be executed. On the contrary, in some cases it seems like they can benefit from preferential treatment: 34 policemen tested positive, nothing happened
More recently in April 2015, the death sentences of two Iranians
were commuted to life in prison. This came as a surprise because simultaneously, Jokowi was refusing clemency to several inmates, among which some had shown signs of rehabilitation.
The case of Hengky Gunawan
is even more disturbing. He was caught with 11.1 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine and materials for drug’s production worth over $1 million but his death sentence was reduced to 15 years in prison and then to 12 years only.
The proportionality of sentences is unfortunately inexistent in Indonesia and there is no improvement in sight on the subject.
10) Drug is mostly seen as an imported, Western problem
For most Indonesians, the drug problem comes from Foreigners only. Medias and politicians are responsible for that as they tend to misrepresent it as if all the drugs traffic was in the hands of International traffickers.
They also often forget to mention that large quantities of drugs are produced in Indonesia to be exported. Naturally, since the problem is seen as a Foreign one, Indonesians are very supportive of harsher sentences against them.
Drug use has actually been prevalent in Indonesia for centuries, even long before the Dutch arrived in the country. In the 17th century, numerous documents attest that the use of opium was widespread in Java. The habit of smoking opium by adding it to tobacco was developed in Indonesia before spreading to China. In other parts of Indonesia, some narcotics obtained from plants and trees have also been consumed for ages such as betel nuts in Nusa Tenggara or marijuana in Aceh.
The truth is, Foreigners are part of the problem, but also a big part of the solution. Rehabilitation centers, harm reduction programs, trainings and distribution of needles/medication are largely funded by International donors.
11) Nightclubs known to be ridden with drugs operate freely and are protected by the police
If you have ever been to those clubs, you will understand that there is something wrong. A single raid in a place like Mille's
or Golden Crown
should cause at least 500 arrests.
The BNN spokesperson also mention that after 25 police raids, they haven't caught a single drug dealer yet: ""Everytime a raid is held, we always encounter in drug users, but never caught a dealer or courier. This proves that drug dealers doesn't always appear in night clubs".
The BNN seems either very naive or very corrupted. I let you choose one.
It is well known that clubs are always warned in advance when a police raid is planned, thus naturally no dealers will be present. Only a few people who have no clues, including foreigners, will be caught.
After 25 unfruitful raids, maybe the BNN should make an investigation on who informs the clubs? Maybe the BNN should make an investigation on who owns those clubs?
12) Impunity for the bosses of drug trafficking and drug distribution
Since Jokowi has declared a war on drugs, I don't remember of a single mafia boss or big trafficker who has been arrested.
In the past, as mentioned above, known traffickers suck as Hengky Gunawan
have escaped not only the death penalty, but also life sentences.
I invite you to read my article about the 30 Groups who Own Jakarta Nightlife
to better understand this point. You will learn the links between Tomy Winata, one of Jakarta's alleged mafia boss with some notorious drug-ridden clubs in North Jakarta
While Indonesia is said to be at war against drugs, I was surprised of see that Tomy Winata paid all the expenses of a trip to Las Vegas on May 21st, 2012 to several police officials
and high executives of the National Drug Agency (BNN) including Gories Mere the Head of BNN at that time.
More recently, we could see Tomy Winata together with the new head of the BNN, Anang Iskandar to promote a "Drug Rehabilitation Program
|Tomy Winata with the head of the National Drug Agency|
Top politicians like SBY, Megawati, or current Vice President Yusuf Kalla have been known to frequent him.
|Tomy Winata with Megawati, previous President of Indonesia, mentor of Jokowi|
|Tomy Winata with SBY, former President of Indonesia|
|Tomy Winata with Yusuf Kalla, current Vice President of Indonesia|
Even though Tomy Winata has never been convicted for drugs, he has also never been subject to an investigation.
13) Indonesia is ignoring the fight against illicit financial flows
According to the UN
, the most effective method to fight drugs is to combine those three approaches:
- Reduce demand with prevention programs and treatments
- Reduce supply by dismantling drug trafficking organizations
- Control illicit financial flows
We have seen that prevention programs and treatments are ignored by the Government and mostly managed by International aid agencies. The fight against drug trafficking organization by the Government is just smoke and mirrors as it is mostly mules, drug users and small fish that are being caught.
The Government is also failing at controlling its illicit financial flows. According to the Global Financial Integrity organization
, Indonesia ranks 11th in the list of countries with the largest illicit financial outflows. In 2012 alone, over $ 20 billion left the country illegally
, among which drug money.
Yet, the Government has not shown any commitment in its fight against suspicious funds. Budi Gunawan, currently the number 2 of Indonesia's police force is known to have had over $7 million of suspicious money in his family's bank account. Yet Jokowi didn't push for a proper investigation...
Bonus #14: Indonesia makes no differences between drugs
Marijuana and ecstasy have been known to create less casualties and to be less addictive than alcohol, tobacco or other solvents that are easily available:
Addiction and harm caused by several drugs (from The Lancet
Yet, Indonesians are made to believe that heroin, ecstasy, mushrooms or marijuana produce the same effects and create the same addiction. Acknowledging that those drugs are different would allow the government to implement more effective solutions.
It makes no sense to send a marijuana or ecstasy smoker in rehabilitation as there is no addiction to the product. I don't see the point of sending these people to jail as well, unless we want millions of Indonesians behind bars. A fine would be more appropriate in my opinion.
Heroin users should absolutely go to rehabilitation as it is proven that most of them cannot get rid of their addiction without medical help.
If heroin and marijuana do not cause the same harm, it would be logic to give their traffickers differentiated sentences as well.
I am convinced that there is a deliberate effort from the government and the medias to sensationalize the problem of drugs for political gain. I will end this article with a quote from Thích Nhất Hạnh, a buddhist monk and peace activist.
If you are Indonesian, there are 80% chance you disagree with me. Please don't hesitate to comment, I'll love to have an interesting discussion about the topic.