Edo: ‘Human rights violations against people who use drugs have increased in Indonesia.’

In a period of one month, eight of my colleagues were caught by the police at a hotspot where drugs are used. In exchange of hefty bribes the police let them go. I also heard of a man who was arrested just because of tobacco in his ashtray. The police claimed that it was marijuana and demanded over 8,000 US dollars in exchange for sending him to mandatory treatment rather than to prison. I have heard many stories like these since the government stated that Indonesia is in a drug ‘emergency’ situation.

After our President declared the ‘war on drugs’, stigma, discrimination and human rights violations against people who use drugs have increased in Indonesia. We as a community of people who use drugs experience many harmful effects. The government more and more employs punitive approaches to deal with drug issues. It wants to reach the target of sending 100,000 people to mandatory rehabilitation, but this is impossible considering that an estimated number of 74,000 people inject drugs across Indonesia. To implement this unrealistic plan, the government has established new rehabilitation centres in 60 prisons and over 30 police academies and military training bases.

I’m convinced that a punitive war on drugs is ineffective. And there is evidence that criminalisation of people who use drugs is fuelling the HIV epidemic. My organisation PKNI calls for a focus on approaches such as opioid substitution therapy, needle and syringe programmes, HIV treatment, and care for people who use drugs – approaches that are evidence-based and public health informed. We also advise to invest in the collection of better quality data on the scale and nature of drug use in Indonesia, without which the development of an effective approach is not possible. This is why PKNI together with a broad coalition of Indonesian academics recently published an open letter on these issues to President Joko Widodo in The Lancet.

I heard of one man who was arrested just because of tobacco in his ashtray

There is little political will within the Ministry of Health and the Parliament to oppose current policies. Our next advocacy agenda item will be generating evidence of the harms caused by the current policies, so we can use these as evidence for advocacy among policy makers. PKNI will continue to raise the voice of people who use drugs against stigma, discrimination and human rights violations, which have increased in the last few months.

The political situation in Indonesia regarding people who use drugs is worrying, yet in my personal life there are positive developments in terms of my relationship with my children, my health and my career. I manage my time better now and spend more time with my family. And at the PKNI office my team feels like family.