55 dead in Indonesia's war on drugs with 'shoot-on-sight' policy

Indonesian narcotics police display seized ecstasy pills during a press conference in Jakarta, on Aug 1, 2017.
Indonesian narcotics police display seized ecstasy pills during a press conference in Jakarta, on Aug 1, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Raid, shoot, kill and repeat. Indonesia is replicating the harsh and unprecedented war on drugs launched by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, in a bid to clamp down on widespread drug trafficking.

As the authorities have vented their frustration at the often lenient punishment slapped on drug kingpins, who usually end up simply splashing out their money to enjoy luxurious lifestyles while in prison, the shoot-on-sight policy may have been adopted as a short cut to clear the streets of the archipelago of drug abusers.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and National Police chief General Tito Karnavian have previously stated warnings about replicating Mr Duterte's methods, and this may be coming to pass.

London-based Amnesty International has revealed that a total of 55 Indonesian and foreign nationals were killed without judicial process between January and August this year, having been shot by law-enforcement agencies.

While the organisation does not provide last year's number for comparison, media reports indicate fewer than five were killed in 2016.

This year's number has yet to reach the level of extrajudicial killings of drug dealers under Mr Duterte in the Philippines, where 8,000 drug dealers have been killed in the past 11 months, including 2,500 who died in shoot-outs during raids.

Amid the mounting death toll, Mr Jokowi repeated his order on July 21 for law-enforcement personnel to gun down drug dealers without compunction, a call many activists fear will intensify the killings and provide blanket impunity for officers to simply to shoot to kill, rather than in self-defence as mandated by the law.

"After Jokowi's order, eight more people (suspected drug dealers) have been summarily killed," Amnesty International Indonesia researcher Bramantya Basuki told The Jakarta Post recently.

"The latest incident is the killing of a drug dealer in Surabaya, East Java (on Friday)," he said.

The Surabaya shooting by National Narcotics Agency (BNN) personnel took place just five days after members of the same institution shot dead Malaysian drug dealer Cheng Kheng Hoe in Kalimantan on Sunday.

Three foreigners and one Indonesian were shot dead by anti-drug investigators in July alone. In the largest drug bust in the country, where police seized a record-breaking 1 ton of crystal methamphetamine, police personnel shot dead a Taiwanese man in a raid in Anyer, Banten, on July 13. Police claimed Lin Ming Hui died after resisting arrest during the raid.

The Jakarta Police also shot a Chinese man, identified only as LX, in Kalideres, West Jakarta, on July 24. LX had allegedly smuggled 41.6kg of crystal meth together with his partner, LY. On July 17, the police shot dead JY, an Indonesian, in Seasons City Apartments, West Jakarta, he allegedly was in possession of 6.5 kg of crystal meth.

A joint team from the BNN, the National Police and Customs and Excise Agency seized 284.3 kg of crystal meth in Pluit, North Jakarta, and shot dead a Taiwanese man, identified only as KKH, as he allegedly tried to attack police officers in the course of the arrest.

"The order of the President is clear, that we should act firmly towards foreign drug smugglers, whose aim is to destroy the country," BNN head Commander, General Budi Waseso, said recently, adding that investigators had acted responsibly and complied with procedures in the shootings.

The BNN has recently procured high-powered weapons, imported from Germany, Russia, the United States and the Czech Republic, that can penetrate a reinforced wall with a single shot.

In most of the 55 killings, nine involving foreign drug dealers, officers claimed that they had no option other than to shoot-to-kill after the suspects resisted arrest, tried to escape or grabbed an officer's firearm, Mr Bramantya said.

Amnesty called on the government to investigate the 55 killings in order to determine whether the law-enforcement personnel had complied with the rule of law in the context of self-defence.

"No matter where the suspected dealers come from, they are human beings whose right to life must be protected under all circumstances. Indonesia must think about the scenario where Indonesians suspected of being drug dealers overseas will be treated in the same way," Amnesty International Indonesia director Usman Hamid said.

National Police spokesman, Brigadier-General Rikwanto insisted that the killings of the 55 suspected drug dealers had been conducted in line with standard operating procedures.

"Shooting without hesitation is a firm measure in the fight against drug dealers. But of course the shootings are in accordance with SOPs," BG Rikwanto said.