Drug offenses expose Indonesia’s problems

Drug offenses expose Indonesia’s problems

(printed in Inside Indonesia but I don’t know when….. google gagal!)
by Laine Berman
For the past few years a great many articles have appeared on Indonesia’s drug ‘culture’ and the disastrous impact it has on youth. Blame is thrown about at all sides but little has yet appeared to link drug use among teens to the police, the court system, and families themselves. Youths caught in this system of denial, corruption and abuse are more likely than not to return to drugs and crime because it provides no ‘healing’ – only abuse, resentment, and intense hatred toward that system. I argue that families of drug users themselves have a major responsibility in perpetuating this cycle of drug abuse.
On an afternoon in June 2005 in Yogyakarta, four young men that I knew well were arrested for drug offenses. One was a small time dealer, another, his distributor, the other two incidental users who happened to be in the location for non-drug-related purposes. The law states that where there is no evidence, a person must be unconditionally released within 3 X 24 hours. In this case, the two ‘incidental users’ were held for 4 and 5 days each while their families negotiated a ‘price’ for their release. One paid 3 million rupiah, the other 5. Is this a legal system or a kidnapping ring?

Of the two guilty parties, the dealer’s family paid more ‘tebusan’ (ransom/bribe money) to the police than the distributor. Thus, the BAP (the charge sheet that forms the basis of the court case) that should have linked them, presented fictitious ‘events’ that protected the dealer. Meanwhile, the distributor caught the brunt of the charges as the one holding the evidence. The amount of actual evidence was also ‘negotiated’ and paid for. For a price, most of the evidence was ‘disappeared’. This is standard practice. Meanwhile, what happens with ‘disappeared’ drugs? Are they destroyed, used, or sold by those who now possess them?

Charges too are negotiated. Both the dealer and his distributor negotiated their charges and were eventually charged as users and not dealers – for a fee.

Every single arrest is an open field for corruption. As long as the police determine the ‘truth’ of a charge, ‘truth’ becomes a commodity that is bought and sold, benefiting the highest payer. Meanwhile, it always benefits the police, certainly providing them with incentive to arrest as many as possible – but not necessarily those who deserve to be arrested.

‘Joni’ told me how he had not touched any drugs at all for at least 4 years until a police officer friend showed up and ordered him to purchase marijuana. Joni was given 100,000 rupiah and told to meet that night. Joni obliged out of fear and was immediately arrested.

‘Ari’ related how he was forced to leave town after his release from prison on a drug possession charge because of police harassment. “Once they know you can afford to pay, they come back”, he explained.

‘Toni’, an occasional user from a wealthy family, was caught with a small amount of putauw in his wallet. Rather than take him to jail, the officers escorted him to the nearest ATM and ordered him to clean out his account. This payment was in lieu of arrest.

Families of those arrested are also subject to police harassment. Some officers would insist the families buy ‘pulsa’ for their cell phones, or risk their loved ones be beaten. Others report police demanding large payments for protection or to release their loved ones. While still in police holding cells, guards demand a payment of rp. 10,000 from the prisoners for each and every visitor they receive.

So why is this corruption so rampant? One reason is the fact that no one takes responsibility for their own infractions. Instead, your average Indonesian is always prepared to pay. Where drug charges are concerned, they pay a lot, regardless of guilt or innocence. Most of the 100 families I interviewed in the Jogjakarta area made some kind of large payment. On average, they pay between rp 5 and 60 million to the police! One drug-dealing village head paid rp 150 million for his immediate release!

With the BAP firmly in the hands of police, charges, evidence, and events of a crime are all controlled by the outcomes of negotiations. The BAP recommends jail time, but actual time in prison is negotiated through the courts. Phase two of the drug bust continues after the BAP has been finalized and sent down to the courts. Now families meet with prosecutors and judges to negotiate jail time. In cases where the accused has paid for a short sentence, Granat (the National Anti-Narcotics Movement) is also paid to not monitor that hearing.

Families are also guilty of turning a blind eye on their child’s or spouse’s problems. All the families I have interviewed insist upon their loved one’s innocence and cast their anger instead toward the police. In many cases, this is unjustified. Mothers and girlfriends refuse to recognize drug addiction. Rather than ask their sons to overcome their problems, standard procedure is to insist they not think about it and remain calm. The family will do all they can to get them out of this hated system.

A familiar face to prisoners and families, parents and wives often speak with me about their ordeals.

“My God, my child is still in high school. He doesn’t use drugs. He was holding the drugs for a friend.”

“My son is innocent. He was trapped by these police bastards!”

Everyone I have spoken with uses the ‘titipan’ excuse. “The drugs were not mine. Someone left the package in my room.” While prisoners world-wide use similar excuses to profess their innocence, what amazed me is how all families firmly deny or conveniently ignore their loved one’s guilt. All saw them as victims within a dirty system. Families bring food and other provisions and insist the prisoner remain calm, relaxed. “Don’t worry. You have nothing to think about. Just stay calm. We will take care of everything.” This often includes selling off family assets, scooters, land, homes, jewelry, heirlooms. Parents borrow millions to get their sons and daughters out of jail. Such action reinforces the benefits of lying and cheating, the foundation of junkie mentality.

When I visit prisoners, I ask: So have you thought about why you use drugs? Can you try to explain what problems cause you to use drugs on a regular basis? How can we help you to face these problems?

Such questions would baffle them. “Why do you always ask us such unsettling questions?”

“Because”, I answer, “I never want to see you in this place again. How many of you are repeat offenders? How many of you are ready to give up drugs permanently? How many of you are able to face the reasons that brought you here in the first place?”

Silence. No one answers.

What I see, that others do not, is that these youth believe their own lies. They believe they are innocent, even though the track marks in their arms tell me they are long term junkies. The youths are unable to understand why they chose the dangers of drugs over safer, healthier choices in life. Instead of personal responsibility, everyone blames the police.

Meanwhile, parents refuse to recognize their children’s guilt and proceed to sell off the meager family assets in order to pay bribes. They show me letters written by their children begging them to get them out of prison. “Please, do what you can to get the money that guarantees a short sentence.” Never do these messages include an apology for the havoc they have caused.

In short then, for whatever reason a youth enters into the drug world, when they get caught, they become further trapped in a world of denial, lies, threats, abuse of power, and loss of family assets to pay the ‘fees’. One reason for this mess is the fact that police units are not given enough funds to do their jobs properly. Thus, they find their budgets where they can. Does this money really go toward covering the costs of a unit or does it pad the pockets of select individuals? One possible response is to standardize negotiation ‘fees’ and make them transparent.

Parents and drug users too refuse to face their problems, question their actions, or seek real solutions. Instead, they immediately resort to payment as a means of ‘solving’ a problem they refuse to face. Who is really at fault here then? How can such a culture heal the wounds that first lead to drug abuse? Where is the healing or rehabilitation within this system? All, from families, drug users, to police, reject responsibility for their roles in this game. Instead, corruption, denial, and hatred are reinforced through lies, bitterness, and resentment toward the legal system, a system they see as the enemy. When such a system demands we ‘say no to drugs’, why should anyone listen?

Laine Berman is a researcher, writer, and community activist with 25 years residence in Indonesia.

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