Mon, 17 Jan 2000

The fight against drugs

The fatal shootout in which five foreign nationals met their violent deaths in a South Jakarta neighborhood last week once again highlights Indonesia's growing significance as both a market and a link in the international narcotics trade. The five foreigners -- two from Nigeria, one from Liberia, one from Togo and one from the Ivory Coast, and all of them suspected members of an international drug syndicate -- were killed in an evening police raid on a rented house in a neighborhood that had for some time been under surveillance for being suspected as a center for the group's clandestine operations.

Only hours before the incident, police at Jakarta's Soekarno- Hatta International Airport had detained seven suspected local Indonesian members of the syndicate as two of them were on the point of leaving Jakarta on a Cathay Pacific flight to London. Fifteen kilograms of cocaine and 1.6 kilograms of heroin were seized in the airport operation.

The results of last week's police operation against international drug dealers in Jakarta were the biggest ever scored so far in recent years. But while they may not have been particularly spectacular when compared to similar cases that have occurred in some of the world's major drug trading centers, they nevertheless accentuate the need for Indonesians to wake up to the danger of their country being quietly ensnared in the deadly global web of the narcotics trade, with all the consequences which that may bring.

Accurate and reliable statistics on the drug trade and drug abuse in Indonesia have, so far, been as good as nonexistent. Official police figures in Jakarta, for example, show that 412 "drug cases", meaning, apparently, the arrest and trial of drug pushers and users, occurred in Jakarta during the first seven months of 1999 -- a figure which even the police themselves do not believe. Only last month, Jakarta police spokesman Lt. Col. Zainuri Lubis conceded to the media that the figure was probably meaningless because "there were hundreds of such cases that went unrecorded during that period."

Even so, even those highly approximate figures that the police has been able to compile show that the trend in drug trafficking and drug abuse is rapidly rising in this country. In 1995, according to official statistics, 194 drug cases were handed by the Jakarta police to the prosecutor's office for processing. The next year, the figure had risen to 249, the following year to 605 and 432 last year. Statistics aside, media reports and complaints by worried teachers and parents of pushers having begun to move their operations to secondary schools, and in some cases even elementary schools, are cause for considerable concern.

What, then, should or can be done to fight this growing drug menace?

Police spokesman Lt. Col. Zainuri said, "We are doing our best. But what's the use of all our work when drug dealers can get out of jail after no more than six months, whereas they are actually guilty and are sentenced to years in prison." Some dealers, according to Zainuri, are out after only three months in jail. "And that's it. They begin their business all over again. Our job is to catch the dealers, but what are the (other) institutions doing?"

The law, at present, prescribes a prison sentence of up to 15 years in prison or a fine of at least Rp 200 million (US$27,000). Obviously, sterner punishment for drug pushing is in order. Of late, a public debate has been going on over the advisability of introducing the death sentence for drug dealers -- a measure that is already being applied in some other countries in this region.

Many rights-conscious citizens in this country are certain to oppose such an extreme ruling. On the other hand, there are many others who regard such a measure as fitting in order to protect the large majority of innocent citizens. Whatever the outcome of this debate, it is time that serious thought is given to setting up a legal and bureaucratic mechanism that is effective in stemming this alarming trend.