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Indonesia’s Party Island Is No Longer the Drug Paradise It Once Was

The police are coming after drug users and dealers in Gili Trawangan, an island off the coast of Lombok famous for its over-the-top parties.

by Arzia Tivany Wargadiredja
11 April 2019, 7:49am

Photo by Iyas Lawrence/VICE Indonesia

The atmosphere in Gili Trawangan, a popular party destination for tourists in West Nusa Tenggara, located 100 kilometers east of Bali, won't be the same in the coming days as police continue to arrest alleged drug users and dealers.

Gili Trawangan, one of the islands that make up the Gilis, has always been famous for its over-the-top drug parties. The reason for this is that Gili Trawangan had never seen substantial police presence, if at all. Until now, of course.

The arrests started on March 31, when police caught a 46 year-old American man and a 24 year-old Indonesian man at the guesthouse where they were staying for allegedly distributing meth and marijuana. Between the two men, the police found 1.21 kilograms of marijuana in various forms of packaging, and 13 packages of methamphetamine of an undisclosed amount, plus a number of packs of magic mushrooms.

"We are still investigating the roles of the suspects in this case," a West Nusa Tenggara Regional Police spokesperson, Purnama, told Bisnis.com. "We will also coordinate with other people learn more about the activities of these foreign nationals up until the time of their arrests."

The two suspects may face the death penalty.

The hunt for other drug traffickers on the island continues. Police also arrested a woman allegedly distributing drugs in Gili Trawangan earlier this week based on a tip from a trafficking network busted in West Nusa Tenggara capital, Mataram, a day earlier.

West Nusa Tenggara Regional Police arrested the informant, who was in possession of 10 small packets of meth hidden inside a cigarette pack.

These raids will certainly change Gili Trawangan’s old reputation as a hotspot for illegal drugs. The notoriously wild parties here could make anyone forget they're still in Indonesian territory, home to some of the harshest narcotics laws in Asia.

Ian Wilson, an expert in organized crime from the Asia Research Center, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the drug use in Gili Trawangan started among the working class who needed a productivity boost. Unlike in any other regions in Indonesia, the stigma of using and distributing drugs didn't exist here.

"Trawangan is self-contained and there's no risk of spread," Wilson said. "In Jakarta a lot of resistance to drug areas is because people are worried they're going to spread into neighbourhoods. Trawangan is an island, it's isolated, it can be contained, it's basically for foreigners and so it's not considered such a big deal."

Eunike Sri Tyas Suci, researcher on drug abuse at Parahyangan Catholic University in Bandung, told South China Morning Post that Gili Trawangan’s drug problem is no different from the drug problems elsewhere in Indonesia.

“There are a lot of Australian tourists who choose Gili Trawangan deliberately under the assumption that it is safer to do drugs there,” Suci said.

While a handful of arrests won't eradicate Gili Trawangan's drug culture entirely, this drug paradise is definitely not going to be the same after this.

This article was originally published on VICE Indonesia.