Indonesian public opinion is hardening against the drug trade amid growing support for a shoot-to-kill policy like the one used in the Philippines.
The leader of the Philippines has become known for his strong stance against illegal drugs and orders to eliminate drug dealers. This shoot-to-kill policy has not gone unnoticed overseas and, with more than 3,500 people connected to drug crime taken off the streets across the Philippines, the Indonesian public is impressed with his results.
Indonesian netizens, as an example, have been quick to compare Duterte with their president, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. Many have shared their disappointment in Jokowi’s seemingly weaker attitude and even support Duterte’s approach on capital punishment. Several social networking sites’ users even tag Jokowi’s username in posts about Duterte’s success, encouraging the president to take similar steps.
But although the public may cheer Jokowi on to follow Duterte, they do not make the final call. And just last year Jokowi himself promised a renewed commitment to tackling Indonesia’s drug problem. Speaking to the 2015 National Coordination Meetings on Drugs, he said the country was “in a state of emergency regarding drugs.” He also emphasised that those convicted of drug trafficking crimes would not be forgiven and could be certain they would face the firing squad. Human rights organisations immediately protested the harsh policy; Jokowi didn’t budge.
To add some context to the Indonesian leader’s comments, in the same year there were reports that pilots and air cabin crews working on Indonesia airlines were abusing drugs. The shocking news was made public less than a month after Indonesia AirAsia Flight 8501 tragic accident which killed 162 people.
A strong stance doesn’t come without a price
Jokowi then showed that his words shouldn’t be taken lightly by celebrating the first month of 2015 by executing six convicts of drug-trafficking. Among them were a Dutchman and a Brazilian and following Jokowi’s refusal to spare their citizens, ambassadors from both nations were withdrawn for consultations
And there has been more than diplomatic disquiet about the relentless approach to those convicted of drugs offences. In an open letter directed to Jokowi by the British health journal The Lancet, the president was encouraged to abandon the death sentence as“counterproductive”. Professor Dr Irwanto, a renowned HIV researcher in Indonesia, also publicly supported this idea, suggesting Jokowi chooses public health and harm reduction strategies instead. Irwanto also noted that the current approach had been nothing but a failure; causing more harm than good.
On July 29 this year, however, drug lord Freddy Budiman met his end by firing squad along with four Nigerian convicts. Altogether 18 inmates have been executed since Jokowi’s appointment as the president two years ago. Former Indonesian leader, Susilo Bambang Yudhyono, signed death warrants for just 17 inmates in all of his two terms as president.
Before his execution, Freddy Budiman caused quite a buzz as rumours spread concerning his video testimony. While the video was never made public, some speculated that he mentioned the names of members of the National Police, Indonesian Military (TNI) and National Narcotics Agency (BNN) that were involved in his drug ring. Although the police had promised to investigate his testimony thoroughly, on Jokowi’s order, no updates have ever been released.
An abuse of power?
On a more operational level, National Police Chief General Tito Karnavian made assurances that the BNN was doing all that they could, without exception, to fight drug crimes. However, since Indonesia believes in the presumption of innocence, Tito also mentioned that a shoot on sight policy would only lead to abuse of power. Indonesia would not, therefore, be adopting Duterte’s policy.
He added that the social and political situations in Indonesia and the Philippines were not easily comparable so a policy that worked for one would not automatically work for the other. Meanwhile, the police are allowed to open fire if a criminal is spotted with a firearm or threatening the life of any citizen.
On careful consideration, it seems unlikely Duterte’s policy will make it to Indonesia, but Jokowi has already proved himself to be far from lenient. Although the effectiveness of the current approach adopted by the government has yet to be proven, at least the public can rest assured that drug crimes criminals are not going unpunished. Despite that, more has to be done to battle this endless invisible war taking place in Indonesia.