The War on Drugs in Indonesia and its Security Implications
9 Aug 2017
On 22 July 2017, Indonesian President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo instructed police to begin shooting drug dealers on sight. The order was issued because, according to the president, Indonesia is in a “narcotics emergency”. The call made by President Widodo came in apparent response to the seizure of a ton of crystal methamphetamine (with the street value of $112 million) and the shooting of a Taiwanese national accused of being a smuggler. This constituted the largest seizure of drugs ever by Indonesian police.
- The Indonesian president has ordered police to shoot drug dealers on sight.
- There are fears that this order may lead to scenes of extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses, as seen in the Philippines.
- The Indonesian anti-narcotics chief fears that the conflict in Philippines has pushed the drug market to Indonesia.
Crime: On 22 July 2017, Indonesian President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo instructed police to begin shooting drug dealers on sight. The order was issued because, according to the president, Indonesia is in a “narcotics emergency”. The call made by President Widodo came in apparent response to the seizure of a ton of crystal methamphetamine (with the street value of $112 million) and the shooting of a Taiwanese national accused of being a smuggler. This constituted the largest seizure of drugs ever by Indonesian police.
The Indonesian government, public, and local commentators have also suggested that the drug war in the Philippines has pushed drug users and dealers across the Sulu and South China seas into Indonesia. However, this is unclear at present.
Solace Global Comment
This statement by President Widodo has drawn comparisons to the war on drugs implemented by President Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte’s administration has encouraged extrajudicial killings to control the perceived drug problem in the Philippines. In the year he has been in office, 7,000 alleged drug users and dealers have been killed by police and vigilantes. Many of those killed are reported to have been small time users or dealers, and undoubtedly many have used the policy to settle personal scores.
Impact of Drugs in Indonesia
The real impact of drugs in Indonesia is unclear, with disagreements between experts and government officials. The government has estimated that as many as one million people in Jakarta are addicts; this would amount to an unlikely one in every 11 people in the city. The head of Indonesia’s National Narcotics Agency claimed that 33 people die from narcotics every day and that 4.2 million were involved in the drug abuse epidemic in June 2015, which increased to 5.9 million in November of the same year. Some have questioned these figures for being based on outdated surveys with small sample sizes. Some of the assumptions were also questionable. For example, those who had used intravenous drugs once in a 12-month period were classed as addicts. A United Nations report in 2010 estimated that 0.18 per cent of Indonesia’s population were using amphetamines (about 469,000 people). Other figures have suggested that the rate of drug use has not changed significantly since the early 2000s and is similar to the rate of other nations in southeast Asia and far below Europe or the United States. Incomplete evidence suggests that the highest rates of drug use are in the capital Jakarta and Bali. It is difficult to judge the real impact of illegal drugs without trustworthy statistics, which are not available.
Indonesian Drug Laws
Indonesia already has some of the harshest drug laws in the world. Even before President Widodo instituted this order to shoot drug dealers, authorities were known to have a zero-tolerance attitude to drug possession, trafficking, and manufacturing. Those caught in possession of cannabis can receive a jail sentence of up to twenty years, while drug dealing is a crime which could lead to capital punishment; foreigners have not been spared from these punishments. President Widodo has overseen 18 executions since coming to office and over the last 20 years, 20 convicted drug traffickers have faced capital punishment. Police routinely raid locations popular with foreigners and conduct blood/urine tests on those they suspect have been using drugs.
There appears to be a number of reasons why the president has made this decision. Most notably, Widodo’s own personal position. This is likely to be a way for Widodo to enhance his own profile as a strongman in the face of opponents who have called him weak. Indeed, hardline drug policies are popular in Indonesia, with the president’s new instructions likely to be well received. Widodo relies on the Islamist United Development Party as a part of his ruling coalition, this speech may be a way to sure up support with the conservative Muslim constituency; he has been accused of being too liberal and has faced criticism from the religious right. This move follows the reactionary approach enacted by the Philippines president, Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte has been riding high in opinion polls in his country, has received praise from US President Trump, and increased regional influence; Widodo will be looking for a similar impact.
It should be noted that just because Widodo made this statement, it does not necessarily mean a change in government policy; this could be more about political populism. The coming months should clarify what, if any, changes have been made. Moreover, it would appear that Widodo is not seeking to implement the Duterte-style war on drugs to the same intensity. However, some are concerned. The Widodo administration has quietly begun to praise the administration of the former dictator President Suharto. In the 1980s, thousands of suspected criminals and gang members were killed (without trial) under Suharto’s rule; there are some that fear Indonesia may be slipping back towards a time when the country’s authorities employed disregard for basic levels of human rights.
There is also a discussion to be had over the relationship with between drug trafficking and militant groups. We have seen around the world, from FARC in Colombia, to the Taliban in Afghanistan, militant groups actively cultivate the drug trade. Indeed, Abu Sayyaf and other militant groups active in the southern Philippines have used such means to pay for their activities; there are fears that militant groups have been pushed into Indonesia from the Philippines, and are perhaps engaging in the same illegal pursuits there.
It is imperative that all travellers to Indonesia follow the countryâs strict drug laws. Do not engage in illegal drug taking, even to a small extent, and ensure you are not duped into become a drug mule for criminal gangs, as this could lead to a long prison term, or worse. The impact of this new instruction by the president could be severe. If confronted by a police drug squad, it is vital that all instructions are adhered to as any disobedience could be reacted to violently by officers. Travellers to Indonesia are advised to follow the development of this law in order to fully understand how it will be implemented in the future and if it will cause the same impact as it has in the Philippines.
With any travel, including to low risk destinations, it is important to be prepared. Travellers should ensure that they adhere to local rules on the importation of prescription drugs. For more information, travellers should contact their local Indonesian Embassy or Consulate.
For many areas of Indonesia (especially tourist locations), enhanced security measures may not be required. Travellers may still wish to employ a locally-vetted driver in order to overcome transport issues which hamper major urban areas, including Jakarta.Â For more remote areas and the restive West Papua region, it would be advisable to employ close protection and ensure a communication plan is put into place. For all travel to Indonesia, it is important to use travel-tracking technology with an intelligence feed. This ensures that they are kept updated of security-related events and can inform others in case of an emergency.
Download Full Report
Please fill out form below to access the full report