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Drugs: High noon in Indonesia


By Bill Geurin

JAKARTA - Indonesia's war on drugs has been ramped up as the tourist and clubbing season on the resort island of Bali reaches its peak.

In a move that could deter tourists from visiting Indonesia, Bali nightclubs will be subject to random drug raids and customers forced to provide urine samples, according to the head of Bali drug squad, Colonel Bambang Sugiarto. In the past, only those found with drugs were forced to submit to urine tests.

On June 26 (the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking) every mobile phone subscriber in the country received a personal SMS (short message service) from retired army general President Susilo Bambang Yudhyono, warning against drugs.

His next move, on July 8 was to promote the former head of the National Narcotics Agency (BKKN) General Sutanto to national police chief. "Our younger generation are being threatened with ruin," Sutanto said before launching an unprecedented crackdown on drugs, gambling and prostitution.

Police have since raided nightspots, forcing partygoers to take urine tests and rummaged in the handbags of ravers. A series of highly publicized raids on trendy nightspots and up-market rave dens in Bali and Jakarta has netted more than 250 locals and foreigners alike. Several well-known figures from the entertainment world were caught up in a recent raid at Jakarta's top notch Dragon Fly nightclub.

The threat of urine tests has, unsurprisingly, scared away would-be customers, according to Indonesia's Association of Entertainment Center Owners, causing 40,000 workers to be laid off.

An Australian newspaper quoted a partygoer, Shelly, 24, describing one such raid in Bali. "It freaked people out, they were running to the toilets to get rid of what they had," she said. "We go out for a good time, not to have the cops shutting the music off for an hour. They should be locking up the people selling it to us, rather than getting us in the clubs."

An estimated 280,000 Australians visit Bali each year, second only to the Japanese. The fact that at least 11 Australians sit in Indonesian jail cells awaiting drug charges or trial is nothing more than coincidence, suggests Sugiarto. Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was much more blunt and to the point.

Commenting on the number of Australians still being caught on drug charges throughout Asia he said, "Look, the Schapelle Corby case, if you had missed it you'd have to have been a hermit."

He has a point. Signs scattered throughout Bali's international airport warn: "Death penalty for drug traffickers."

Beauty therapy student, Schapelle Leigh Corby, dubbed by Indonesian media as "the marijuana queen", is serving 20 years for drugs smuggling after being caught at Bali airport with 4.1 kilograms of marijuana in her boogie board bag. A week before her arrest, a 32-year-old Indonesian woman was executed by firing squad for drug smuggling.

State prosecutors have already stated they will seek the firing squad for the "Bali Nine" who were caught with heroin taped to their bodies, trying to smuggle it out of Indonesia back to Australia, in true "Midnight Express" style.

Australian ambassador David Ritchie has been moved to send an e-mail warning to 3,000 of his fellow citizens. "I am writing to all Australians registered in Indonesia to urge you not to take chances: purchasing, carrying or taking any drugs into Indonesia is simply not worth the risk. Australians do get caught and the strict penalties in place, which include the death penalty, do apply to foreigners."

Yet still they come. The case of 24-year-old Australian model Michelle Leslie, arrested last week in Bali over possession of two ecstasy pills, has now grabbed the headlines. Leslie, dubbed "Miss Beautiful" by local media, models underwear, swimwear and other clothes, and last year appeared in little more than body paint at a modeling assignment. In a bizarre twist she appeared in a Bali court on Monday wearing a burkah, a Muslim dress that covers the whole face and body. Asked if his client was officially a Muslim, her Australian lawyer Ross Hill replied, "Yes, she's Muslim." She faces a 15-year jail term.

The majority of the 400 prisoners in Bali's disease-infested Kerobokan prison, where the smiling bomber Amrozi and two of his co-conspirators are on death row, and where the Australians are held, are drug offenders. There are 16 foreign inmates. One of them, Frenchman Michael Blanc, who also denied responsibility for drugs that were found in his luggage in 2000, is serving a life sentence.

About 3.2 million Indonesians are drug users and an estimated 78% of those are in their 20s. More than 15,000 deaths every year are attributed to drug abuse.

Drugs are readily available in all major urban areas, including schools, karaoke lounges, bars, cafes, discotheques, nightclubs and even in remote villages.

Drug counselors cite peer pressure, poor enforcement and lack of treatment facilities as among the key factors contributing to the rise of the drug menace.

The designer drug ecstasy is generally thought to be the "gateway" to the harder drugs. Addicts abuse ganja and heroine, shabu-shabu (crystal methylamphetamine), putau (low grade heroin) and cocaine.

Ecstasy and shabu-shabu are favorites among the middle- and upper-class users. Marijuana is the drug of choice among university students and intellectuals.

For an increasing number of young people, the drug of choice is putau, which is cheap, plentiful, but potentially deadly.

Local ecstasy production is expanding rapidly to meet demand. One factory just outside metropolitan Jakarta, disguised as an Islamic school, was churning out more than 250,000 ecstasy pills a day.

The BKKN is loosely modeled on the US Drug Enforcement Agency, and has a specific responsibility for intelligence networking and the investigation of international drug syndicates that impact on Indonesia's counter-narcotics efforts.

The agency was set up by former president Megawati Sukarnoputri in 2002 and is part of the national police establishment. The BKKN says the government's policy against the drug problem is comprehensive and multidimensional, covering the aspects of prevention, eradication of drug abuse and drug crimes. Schools are among the top targets for anti-narcotic campaigns.

Head of BKKN Makbul Padmanagara, a former Jakarta police chief, complains that his budget of Rp165 billion (US$16.5 million) for this year is insufficient. "This is not enough when compared to Malaysia, for example, which provides an annual budget of Rp300 billion for rehabilitation and therapy," he said.

Law No 22/1997 on narcotics and Law No 5/1997 on psychotropic substances prescribe a maximum punishment of death. Former justice minister Muladi reportedly has called the Indonesian court system a "judicial killing machine" ready to bring down the hammer on hard-drug mules. Amnesty International says it is concerned by Indonesia's "increasing willingness" to execute criminals, particularly drug traffickers.

Three foreigners were executed by firing squad for smuggling 12.29 kilograms of heroin into the country in 1994. Indian national Ayodhya Prasad Chaubey was executed at a golf course on the outskirts of Medan, North Sumatra, on August 5. His two accomplices, Thai nationals Saelow Praseart and Namsong Sirilak, were executed on October 1.

There are now about 54 people on death row in Indonesia, including three militants convicted over the October 12, 2002, Bali nightclub bombings that killed 202 people. Thirty-one of them have been convicted on drug charges. Twenty foreigners are awaiting execution, including several Africans. Yudhyono has publicly stated that no Indonesian president has ever pardoned a drug criminal.

However, the death penalty and life imprisonment are not mandatory. Judges have the discretion to consider mitigating circumstances and impose a lighter sentence.

The amount and type of drugs involved, the age of the defendant and whether the defendants were tricked or forced into trafficking (as some of the "Bali Nine' have claimed) may be taken into account. A convict is allowed to appeal twice and seek clemency and a case review, a process that often takes several years.

The real victims The drug partying may be over for clubbers, for a while at least, but the war and zero-tolerance policy on crime seems likely to continue for the foreseeable future given the president's tough stance on corruption and his pledges to clean up the police force and the judiciary.

Indonesia understandably wants to publicize its hard line on drug smugglers, but the Australian and Indonesian media have a somewhat different handle on the issue. Spotlighting Australian victims in the local media reinforces a message to Indonesians that it's the foreigners who are the problem.

Critics complain, however, that the country's notoriously corrupt courts have failed to mete out similar harsh justice to members of the security forces allegedly involved in narcotics trafficking.

There are also complaints that children of powerful military officers and politicians are rarely punished, let alone put to death, for drug offenses.

Police and military personnel have long been accused of involvement in the illegal drugs (and gambling and prostitution) businesses. They are thought to be in fierce competition with each other. In one incident in November 2002 eight people were killed in a drug-related gun-battle between the police and the military at a barracks in North Sumatra.

The Australian media, on the other hand, have had a field day with saturation coverage of young Australians being handcuffed and dragged to court screaming their innocence. This is all understandable, perhaps, but the real victims are the Balinese.

With the Indonesian tourism industry just beginning to recover from the Bali bombings, warnings about terrorism continue to cause a decline in the number of tourists. There are obvious concerns that random drug testing could scare tourists away yet again.