In Indonesia, the number of people who use drugs being detained and incarcerated remains high. Currently, 35-40 percent of the total number of prisoners are people who are detained on drug-related charges. In January 2015, President Joko Widodo declared a renewed ‘war on drugs’, alongside a new target of the National Narcotics Board to ‘rehabilitate’ 100,000 people who use drugs this year. This announcement had immediate consequences. Since the announcement, the Narcotics Board has carried out weekly, sometimes bi-weekly, raids across the country, particularly in Jakarta. During such raids, persons who are suspected of using drugs are detained against their will. They also have a forced urine test, and if positive, they are placed in compulsory rehabilitation centres, or otherwise asked to pay hefty bribes for their freedom. But not every person who uses drugs needs or chooses rehabilitation.

The effects on the health, safety, and high risk behaviour are immediate and have the potential to be disastrous if they continue. The latest raids have already led to people who use drugs to hide further underground, where they are more difficult to reach by harm reduction and other health and support services. They avoid visiting community health centres (‘puskesmas’) out of fear of being reported to the Narcotics Board or the police. These developments have the potential to reverse many public health achievements among people who use drugs in Indonesia. All of this is extremely concerning to me as an activist.

The latest raids have already led to people who use drugs hiding further underground, where they are more difficult to reach by harm reduction services

My organisation PKNI defends the human rights of people who use drugs in Indonesia. Recently, we strongly advocated against the death penalty for any type of crime. PKNI co-authored a letter to the Indonesian President opposing the death penalty for drug offences, both on human rights grounds and as a solution to what the government calls a ‘drugs emergency’. We wrote the letter with our colleagues of the Community Legal Aids Institute (LBH Masyrakat), and subsequently it was signed by over 20 organisations. Currently, we are collaborating with researchers and civil society organisations to deconstruct the government’s false statement that Indonesia is in a state of emergency when it comes to drug use. This claim is based on questionable data, and is already having negative unintended consequences.

However, there are also positive developments in my country. In general, I appreciate the Ministry of Health’s recent efforts to increase the HIV services for key populations, including people who use drugs. The one major challenge remains the exclusion of people who use drugs from the national insurance. This means that, although treatment for hepatitis C for those co-infected and mono-infected should technically be free under the new national insurance, our community is excluded on the flawed basis that we ‘have caused the illness ourselves’ due to our drug dependence. One could argue that smokers with lung cancer should be treated in the same way, but so far the discriminatory logic only applies to people who use drugs. My hope is simple: I would like society to accept HIV and hepatitis C in the same way as other illnesses against which we do not discriminate.