Indonesian officials on Thursday defended extra-judicial killings of suspected drug dealers, a day after Amnesty International said they had tripled in the last year.
Police killed at least 60 drug suspects thus far in 2017, compared to 18 in 2016, the rights group said, expressing alarm that Indonesia “could be looking to emulate the murderous ‘war on drugs’ in neighboring Philippines.”
Usman Hamid, director of Amnesty International Indonesia, called it a “shocking escalation in unlawful killings” in a statement issued Wednesday.
“While Indonesian authorities have a duty to respond to increasing rates of drug use in the country, shooting people on sight is never a solution,”he said.
“Not only is it unlawful, it will also do nothing to address the root causes that lead to drug use in the first place.”
Authorities should remember that even people suspected of drug offenses “have a right to life that must be respected at all times,” he said.
Sulistityandriatmoko, a spokesman for Indonesia’s National Narcotics Agency (BNN), suggested that drug dealers commit grave crimes.
“Every day 40 to 50 people die as a result of drugs. So, are they not human rights abusers and mass killers?” he told BenarNews, citing research from Universitas Indonesia, one of Indonesia’s top learning institutions.
He insisted police had followed proper procedures when handling drug dealers who resist arrest. What’s more, he said, many of those suspects are armed with guns.
“BNN and police have seized dozens of commercial and homemade guns from drug dealers. The threat is not a joke. Police don’t shoot them if they don’t resist,” he said.
Indonesian leaders including National Police Chief Tito Karnavian have called for tougher measures against drug-related crimes. He cited Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte ‘s war on drugs as an example.
More than 8,000 suspected drug offenders have been killed since July 2016 in the Philippines, including those slain by vigilantes, according to a BenarNews tally.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said at least 4.5 million Indonesians had become addicted or exposed to drugs and called for lethal force against foreign drug dealers who resist arrest.
“Be firm, especially to foreign drug dealers who enter the country and resist arrest. Enough, just shoot them. Be merciless,” he said in a July 21 speech in Jakarta.
His government has executed 18 convicted drug offenders amid howls of protest from foreign governments and rights groups.
Six people faced the firing squad on Jan. 18, 2015; eight on April 29, 2015; and four on July 29, 2016. Three were Indonesian; the rest were foreign nationals.
Of those killed by police in 2017, at least eight have been foreigners, Amnesty International said.
“It is deeply worrying that foreigners appear to be targeted by the authorities. This could point to a deliberate policy to scapegoat non-Indonesians,” Usman said.
Amnesty said most of the shootings of drug suspects took place near the capital city of Jakarta or on the island of Sumatra, “a known hub for drug trafficking.”
It said six people had been killed in drug raids this month alone, including a 50-year-old man who allegedly tried to reach for a gun while being arrested in East Java on Aug. 12.
“Police claim that all the killings have been in self-defense or because suspects tried to flee the scene. But as far as Amnesty International is aware, authorities have not conducted independent investigations into any of these incidents,” an AI statement said.
Sulistityandriatmoko, the BNN spokesman, said Indonesia is a target market for international drug syndicates, notably in China, Malaysia, Nigeria, and some European countries.
China directed 250 tonnes of methamphetamines to Indonesia in 2016, BNN director Budi Waseso told Reuters in a recent interview. He cited data from China's National Narcotics Control Commission. His agency sized only 3.4 tonnes, he said.
Henry Yosodiningrat, a legislator and chairman of National Anti-Drug Movement, a Jakarta-based NGO, dismissed the AI statement and urged authorities to continue their current approach.
“Don’t just look at it from the point of view of human rights. Look at the side of the victims and the fate of the Indonesian nation,” he said.
“Arrests have their procedures, from warning shots to crippling shots. In my opinion, you don’t need toworry about this criticism. Go ahead,” he said.