Now We Know Just How Deadly Indonesia's Renewed Drug War Actually Is

At least 55 alleged drug traffickers have been gunned down during police raids since the start of the year, according to Amnesty International.

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15 August 2017, 11:03pm

Tersangka penyelundup narkoba dalam jumpa pers di Mabes Polri. Foto oleh Darren Whiteside/ Reuters

It all started eight months ago. Indonesia's anti-narcotics chief was in the press heaping praises on Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's brutal war on drugs. The BNN chief, a man named Budi Waseso, called the life of a drug dealer "meaningless," as he urged police to "shoot drug dealers, sellers, or users dead on the spot."

By July, President Joko Widodo was singing a similar tune, telling authorities to "show no mercy," with foreign drug dealers who resist arrest. "Just shoot them already," President Jokowi said in a speech.

When the BNN chief first lavished praise on the Philippines' war on drugs—a war that has already left thousands dead in a wave of extrajudicial killings and unsolved murders—reporters here at VICE's Indonesia office wondered whether it was all just tough talk. Now, eight months later, a recent interview by the Jakarta Post shows just how serious those words were.

Indonesian authorities have gunned down as many as 55 Indonesian and foreign nations during drug raids since the start of the year, according to data compiled by the human rights group Amnesty International. A survey of media reports on drug raid shootings during all of 2016 conducted by the Jakarta Post found only five deaths.

Amnesty International's Indonesia researcher Bramantya Basuki told the English-language newspaper that the shootings by police had intensified after Jokowi's remarks last month.

"After Jokowi's order, eight more people [suspected drug dealers] have been summarily killed," Bramantya told the Jakarta Post. "The latest incident is the killing of a drug dealer in Surabaya, East Java [on Friday]."

The BNN chief previously said that authorities were only following orders during the shooting deaths. But all of the shootings, authorities said, were done in accordance with standard operation procedures. When BNN agents fatally shot the drug dealer in Surabaya, he was allegedly reaching for an officer's gun, according to reports in local media.

"The order of the president is clear, that we should act firmly towards foreign drug smugglers, whose aim is to destroy the country," Budi Waseso told local media.

Let's put these numbers into context. The Philippines has already totaled more than 5,000 extrajudicial killings and unsolved murders since Duterte took office. Philippines police say those numbers are greatly exaggerated, copping to only 2,679 deaths in official police operations.

But the distinction, according to experts, is meaningless. Duterte's drug war opened the door to frightening levels of violence where most of the bodies could be disguised as consequences of the president's policies. Meanwhile, Philippines police have been accused of purposely under-estimating the number of people killed by sending dead bodies to area hospitals—destroying crime scenes and distorting the figures in the process.

Indonesia's own war on drugs seems downright tame in comparison. But the Philippines and Indonesia aren't exactly the easiest places to compare when it comes to violence. The murder rate per capita in the Philippines is ten times that of Indonesia. The Philippines has a gun culture more similar to the United States than the rest of Southeast Asia. You simply can't just compare the two and come away with a better understanding of the issue.

So what can we compare these 55 deaths to instead? How about comparing Indonesia's recent spate of extrajudicial drug deaths with its own drug trafficking executions? To date, Indonesia has executed 25 people for drug trafficking and other drug-related crimes. That's less than half the amount alleged drug traffickers fatally shot by police in the last eight months.

Fifty-five extrajudicial killings in eight months represents a serious intensification of Indonesia's war on drugs under Jokowi's administration. But it's just one of the figures showing how far the country's authorities are willing to push the drug war. When Jokowi announced plans to restart the execution of drug traffickers at the start of his first term in office, there were an estimated 130 people sitting on death row for drug-related offenses. In 2016 alone, an additional 45 people were sentenced to death for drug trafficking.

Jokowi has already overseen the execution of 18 people since taking office in 2014—a figure that already threatens to close-in on the number of people (23) executed during former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's ten years in power. Those executed under SBY's two-terms in office were a mixture of convicted terrorists, murders, and drug traffickers.

Everyone executed during Jokowi's two-years in office were convicted of drug trafficking. Indonesian authorities announced plans to execute 30 drug traffickers this year, but, so far, the plans seem to have been put on hold.

In March of this year, prison authorities began to transfer a new batch of inmates to the country's so-called "execution island." There's been no official word on their when, and if, the executions will resume.