By Drew Ambrose and Liz Gooch
Jakarta, Indonesia - A prison guarded by crocodiles, tigers and piranhas.
Force-feeding drug dealers their own narcotics until they die. Controversial as they may be, these are just some of the latest weapons Indonesia is considering in its war on drugs. With the country home to 4.5 million addicts, according to government estimates, Indonesia's National Narcotics Agency is suggesting these proposals to tackle the drug menace.
The government says 33 people die from overdoses each day, and it considers the narcotics problem a national emergency. "We need to be serious because drugs are the enemy," says agency spokesman Slamet Pribadi.
Indonesia already has tough narcotics laws, including death by firing squad for large-scale traffickers. But the government believes more needs to be done to deter local drug use.
Across Indonesia, police have stepped up raids on suspected drug dens. A recent raid in Jakarta resulted in four deaths - a police officer, an informer who provided intelligence, and two gang members.
"We have to fight this war on drugs everywhere," says Hendro Pandowo, the local police chief who oversaw the raid. "They have to be cleaned off the streets of Jakarta and eradicated throughout Indonesia."
Every week, law enforcement agencies gather the media and parade the low-level drug users, dealers and the narcotics they have snared.
Facing an HIV outbreak
But critics say the war on drugs is only creating a climate of fear with potentially fatal consequences.
Suhendro Sugiharto, an outreach worker with the Indonesian Drug Users Network, the country's biggest group of advocacy organisations, says the number of HIV infections is rising, a development he attributes to more people sharing needles. Users fear that if police catch them carrying a syringe, they could be sent to prison, he says. "We'll be facing the next HIV outbreak if this doesn't change," says Sugiharto, whose groups provide clean needles. He says drug programmes used to be successful in curbing overdose rates, HIV and hepatitis C because social workers knew where to find addicts.
But now, because of the crackdown, users have moved to more hidden locations. "It's creating difficulty for the outreach worker to give away clean needles and also to collect used needles … and it has put us in danger of an HIV epidemic," he says.
Punishing drug addicts
Others argue that Indonesia's drug laws unfairly punish addicts because they do not distinguish between users and traffickers. "Our laws criminalise the victim," says Rudhy Wedhasmara, a defence lawyer who represents addicts pro bono. "If someone is buying a drug for their own use, it's described in laws as being involved in an illicit trade. Our laws also say if you are caught with a gramme of a drug, they should be sent to rehab, but instead they are sent to jail."
Wedhasmara says prison is the worst place possible for addicts. "Prison is no solution as they remain addicted," he explains.
Up to 70 percent of Indonesia's total prison population are low-level drug offenders, according to prison officials.
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