The New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch has criticized Indonesia’s campaign against drug trafficking.
In a statement, the group said, “President Joko Widodo should send a clear and public message to the police that efforts to address the complex problems of drugs and criminality require the security forces to respect everyone’s basic rights, not demolish them.“
The aim of Indonesia’s campaign is to stop the flow of the low-cost drug crystal methamphetamine. It is similar to the effort of President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. He has been criticized for his violent campaign against drug crimes. Thousands of drug dealers and users have been killed.
Last month, Indonesian officials seized the largest amount of crystal methamphetamine in the history of the country.
The head of Indonesia’s narcotics agency, General Budi Waseso, called for a war on drugs -- similar to the one in the Philippines -- last September.
He told Australia’s ABC news agency, “The market that existed in the Philippines is moving to Indonesia, the impact of President Duterte’s actions is an exodus to Indonesia.“
Severe punishments for drug crimes
Drug trafficking can carry a death sentence in Indonesia which considers the offense as serious as murder or terrorism.
People found guilty of low-level drug crimes are estimated to make up 70 percent of Indonesia’s prison population.
Erasmus Napitupulu is with the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform in Jakarta. He said there are many question about President Jokowi’s drug policy. He criticized the death sentence as putting a big burden on Indonesia’s justice system.
“The death penalty targets small drug couriers, which in many cases leads to unfair trials. Indonesian law has not been able to bear the burden of fair trial(s),“ he said.
Southeast Asian countries have resisted lightening punishments for drug users or traffickers. Besides Indonesia and the Philippines, other countries in the area, including Singapore, want to continue with harsh punishments for drug crimes.
Last year, however, Thailand considered changing the criminalization of methamphetamine because prisons were becoming overcrowded.
But there are no similar signs in Indonesia.
In 2015, Jokowi led an anti-drug campaign that resulted in the execution of 14 people for drug offenses.
But, critics say that the severe punishments have not reduced the number of crimes. Claudia Stoicescu is a researcher at the University of Oxford.
She wrote, “Far from having a deterrent effect, the number of drug-related crimes in Indonesia increased in the months after the executions were carried out in January and April 2015.“
Other critics say increased resources used for drug-related arrests have taken money away from rehabilitation efforts. Some say those resources could be better used to help an estimated one million Indonesians addicted to methamphetamines.
Erasmus says Indonesia should learn from the experience of the United States.
The U.S. has reduced the number of arrests over small drug crimes and moved to legalize small amounts of the drug marijuana.
“If Indonesia retains capital punishment as the main solution for drug issues, then I believe it is a political decision to preserve (politicians’) image(s), not to protect actual narcotics victims,“ he said.
I’m Mario Ritter.
Krithika Varagur reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.