The Indonesian judiciary is relentless in its pursuit of drug offenders, including slapping the death penaty on six of the Bali Nine. But what doesn’t get talked about is the alarming extent of drug abuse by Indonesians in Indonesia.

This report, by an unnamed correspondent in the new Asian website, Asia Sentinel, paints a picture of a country with a drug problem spiralling out of control and a “judicial killing machine” that’s grinding into overdrive but incapable of doing anything about it:

Two years ago, Indonesian authorities tied a 32-year-old Thai woman named Namsong Sirilak and a 62-year-old Indian named Saelow Prasert to palm trees at dawn in northern Sumatra and shot them for trafficking in heroin — only weeks after the execution of their Indian accomplice, Ayodhya Prasad Chaubey.

That might have been a spectacular answer to Indonesia’s growing problem with illegal drugs, but so far it doesn’t seem to be doing much good. Despite Jakarta’s declaration of war on drugs, traffickers continue to tap into the increasingly lucrative Indonesian market, already awash with cheap speed, ecstasy and heroin as the archipelago nation begins to catch up with the drug use problems that Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines especially have been fighting for decades.

The government, however, is beginning to learn that massive drug seizures and the threat of capital punishment for trafficking are no more effective in Indonesia than anywhere else in the world.  A study in 10 major cities found four million Indonesians had used illegal drugs, and the country’s drug trade was valued at nearly US$4 billion a year, with drugs readily available in schools, karaoke lounges, bars, cafes, discotheques, nightclubs and even in remote villages. More than 15,000 deaths every year are attributed to drug abuse.
 
The country’s drugs plight is attracting increasing worldwide attention because of the fact that six young Australians are on death row in Bali after being found guilty of heroin trafficking. The Attorney General’s Office said last month it is preparing to execute 16 of the 43 others sentenced to death for drug trafficking since 2000. They include seven Nigerians, six Indonesians and three foreign nationals from Nepal, Malawi and Thailand.
Another 27 people are still appealing death row sentences for drug-related offenses. 
 
…Former justice minister Muladi has called the Indonesian court system a “judicial killing machine” ready to bring down the hammer on hard-drug mules like the Australian youths, whose chances of escaping the death penalty appears to be slim. Amnesty International says it is concerned by Indonesia’s “increasing willingness” to execute criminals, particularly drug traffickers as authorities step up their crackdown on producers, smugglers, traffickers and users.

Raids on nightclubs and tough policing appear to be having little impact and the Indonesian authorities face one almost insurmountable obstacle: geography.

The difficulty of catching traffickers is illustrated by the fact that there are 142 ports and airports and countless thousands of unguarded entry points making the country a porous trans-shipment point. The narcotics agency says there are 39 Indonesian ports that are susceptible to being used for drug trafficking.
 
Frequent drug busts are made at Jakarta’s Sukarno-Hatta International Airport, but with more advanced security systems and multiple x-ray checks now in place at main airports, drug traffickers are less likely to use planes for distribution. 

And the news for the six of the Bali Nine who are facing the death penalty is far from promising.

But the party is far from over for Indonesian users.  Although President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s incredible pledge to end the drug trade and drug use in Indonesia is more of a dream than a plan, the chilling drug trade among the young threatens a whole generation. Yudhoyono says he will never grant clemency to convicted drug offenders, yet so long as there is demand, there will be supply. After all, as the lawyer, Henry Yosodiningrat points out, “the syndicates have a lot of money to buy officials and this is a most corrupt country.”
 

Peter Fray

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