People who use drugs continue to face stigma and discrimination in Indonesia. The assignment of a new head of the National Narcotics Agency, Budi Waseso, has brought a host of new challenges. For example, he has plans to build a prison for people on drug-related charges on an isolated island guarded by tigers, piranhas, and crocodiles. Waseso also wants to revive the Petrus murder squads. ‘Petrus’ is an Indonesian acronym referring to the words ‘mysterious shooters’. In the 1980s, they committed thousands of extra-judicial killings of government critics. They were widely condemned by Indonesia’s Ministry of Law and Human Rights and international groups. Waseso suggested that Petrus should be reactivated to kill people who use drugs and traffickers.

My organisation, the Indonesian Drug Users Network (PKNI), is in the process of planning a series of advocacy actions with the aim of moving the national discourse away from punitive measures. We try to be progressive and creative in our advocacy work, because the government’s new aggressive approach has a large public following. PKNI is also advocating for accessibility of the latest hepatitis C medication, with the intention that as many people who use drugs in need of the treatment as possible can get it.

There are plans to build a prison for people on drug-related charges on an isolated island guarded by tigers, piranhas, and crocodiles

As a result of the ‘state of drug emergency’ launched by President Joko Widodo eight months ago, the harm reduction situation is awful. Many people who use drugs continue to be sent to jail and are forced to undergo mandatory treatment and rehabilitation, which facilitates the spread of HIV and hepatitis C. Worryingly, fewer people who use drugs now access harm reduction and other health services, due to fear of being reported to the National Narcotics Agency or the police and being targeted for arrest or mandatory treatment. Another challenge is that Australian Aid ended the support of harm reduction programmes in October 2015. More than 20 organisations providing harm reduction services and key population networks, including ours, have been left either entirely unfunded or significantly underfunded. The government will not step in. While waiting for the continuation of support by the Global Fund, harm reduction provision is uncertain for eight months. In many municipalities, some aspects of harm reduction and HIV prevention are criminalised. For example, Surabaya has introduced restrictions to the sale of condoms. A marriage certificate is now required to buy them.

Recent biased media coverage has increased stigma and discrimination associated with drug use and worsened the situation for people who use drugs in Indonesia. The media are not able to cover drug-related news in a balanced, objective manner. Nevertheless, PKNI continues to stay committed to defending the rights of people who use drugs, also under these difficult circumstances. The more complicated the situation is, the more motivated we are to continue pushing for humane alternatives.