Dec 07, 2023 Last Updated 12:55 AM, Dec 7, 2023

Deals and denial

Deals and denial

Who is really responsible for Indonesia's drug epidemic?

 Laine Berman

       Full size comic and translation after article

On an afternoon not long ago in Yogyakarta, four young men I knew well were arrested for drug offences. One was a small-time dealer, another, his distributor. The other two were incidental users who happened to be in the location for non-drug-related purposes. What follows is intended to show how all involved, from junkies to judges, have a role in perpetuating this dangerous cycle of deals and denials.

Indonesian law states that where there is no evidence, a person must be unconditionally released within 72 hours of arrest. In this case, the two incidental users were held for four and five days each while their families negotiated a price for their release. One paid Rp3 million (A$430), the other Rp5 million (A$715).

Of the two guilty parties, the dealer’s family paid more ‘tebusan’ (bribe money) to the police than the distributor. Thus, the BAP (the charge sheet that forms the basis of the court case) presented fictitious ‘events’ that protected the dealer, leaving the distributor to take the brunt of the charges. The amount of drugs the police reported as found was also ‘negotiated’ and paid for. For a price, most of this evidence ‘disappeared’. The dealer and his distributor also negotiated their charges. Both were eventually charged as users and not dealers – for an additional fee. This is standard practice.

In most cases, families also negotiate with prosecutors and judges to determine jail time. In cases where families have paid the courts for a reduced sentence, Granat (the National Anti-Narcotics Movement) is paid not to monitor the hearing.

A lucrative business

Every single arrest is an open field for corruption. As long as the police determine the ‘truth’ of a charge, ‘truth’ becomes a commodity that is bought and sold, benefiting the highest payer. This systemic corruption provides police with an incentive to arrest as many people as possible – but not necessarily those who deserve to be arrested.

‘Jhoni’ told me how he had not touched any drugs at all for at least four years until a police officer friend showed up and ordered him to purchase marijuana. The officer gave Jhoni Rp100,000 (A$15) and told him to meet him that night. Jhoni obliged out of fear and was immediately arrested. Jhoni's arrest helped the police officer fill an arrest quota.

‘Ari’ related how he was forced to leave town after his release from prison on a drug possession charge because of police harassment. ‘Once they know you can afford to pay, they come back’, he explained.

‘Toni’, an occasional user from a wealthy family, was caught with a small amount of putauw (street-grade heroin) in his wallet. Rather than take him to jail, the officers escorted him to the nearest ATM and ordered him to clean out his account. This payment was in lieu of arrest.

Families of those arrested are also subject to police harassment. Some officers insist the families buy credit for their cell phones, or risk their loved ones being beaten. Others report police demanding large payments for protection or to release their family members. While still in police holding cells, guards demand a payment of Rp10,000 (A$1.50) from the prisoners for each visitor they receive.

Drug users don’t take responsibility for their own infractions. Instead, they expect their families to pay to get them out of trouble.

Why is this corruption so rampant? One reason is that drug users don’t take responsibility for their own infractions. Instead, they expect their families to pay to get them out of trouble. And most families are prepared to pay – whether they can afford it or not. Where drug charges are concerned, they pay a lot, regardless of guilt or innocence. Most of the 100 families I interviewed in the Yogyakarta area made some kind of large payment to the police. This ranged from Rp5 million (A$715) to Rp100 million (A$14,000). One village head (lurah), who was also a drug dealer and a user of shabu-shabu (crystal methamphetamine) paid the enormous sum of Rp150 million (A$21,500) for his immediate release.


The fact that drug offenders do not take responsibility for their own actions - nor do their families expect them to do so – perpetuates this cycle. Those arrested on drug-related charges routinely deny them: ‘The drugs were not mine. Someone left the package in my room.’ Sadly, these youth believe their own lies. They believe they are innocent, even though the track marks in their arms tell me they are long term users. When I ask them why they use drugs, none of them is able to offer an answer. Parents show me letters written by their children begging them to get them out of prison. ‘Please, do what you can to get the money that guarantees a short sentence.’ Never do these messages include an apology for the havoc they have caused.

Families are also guilty of turning a blind eye to their child or spouse’s problems. ‘My child is still in high school. He doesn’t use drugs. He was holding the drugs for a friend.’ All the families I have interviewed insist upon their loved one’s innocence and direct their anger instead toward the police. ‘My son is innocent. He was trapped by these police bastards!’ Families bring food and other provisions and insist the prisoner remain calm. ‘Don’t worry. You have nothing to think about. Just stay calm. We will take care of everything.’ This often includes selling off meagre family assets, motorcycles, land, homes, jewellery, and heirlooms. Parents borrow millions of rupiah to get their sons and daughters out of jail.

Payments range from Rp5 million (A$715) to Rp100 million (A$14,000).

Such action reinforces the benefits of lying and of refusing to take responsibility for one’s own actions. These attitudes are the foundation of the drug user’s mentality. When drug users and their families reject responsibility for their crimes – and the problems that cause them – and where corruption in the legal system enables them to escape the consequences of their actions, youths are more likely than not to return to drugs and crime.

Systemic corruption among police and the courts is only one factor serving to perpetuate Indonesia's youth drug epidemic. Equally important is the culture of non-responsibility among both drug users and their families. When a family member is arrested on drug charges, families simply take out their wallets, rather than seek real solutions. Such a culture is unlikely to help heal the wounds that first lead to drug abuse. At the same time, police corruption breeds resentment toward the legal system, and offers no real avenues for rehabilitation. When such a system demands that Indonesia's youth ‘say no to drugs’, why should anyone listen?     ii

Laine Berman ( is a researcher, writer, and community activist with 25 years residence in Indonesia. A previous article on drug use appeared in Inside Indonesia No. 75 (July-September 2003). She has also written a short story about the night her friends were arrested, available at

For more on this topic see the article by Jo Pickles on youth heroin use in Inside Indonesia No. 85 (January-March 2006) and intravenous drug use and HIV by Sudirman Nasir in Inside Indonesia No. 84 (October-December 2005).

Ten thousand rupiah...!!!


Ten thousand rupiah...!!!

Morning, narcotics holding cell, Sleman

Old Skull: Do you know which guard is on duty this afternoon?

Cellmate: Yeah, I know.

Cellmate: If the head guard is Pak Marsidik, he always demands extra!

Old Skull: If it's him, we definitely pay more!

Approaching afternoon (visiting hours), briefing

Guard: Bro, I expect 'full' payment for all visitors!

Old Skull: Gotcha sir!

Guard: And I mean everyone full! If anyone gets two visitors, they pay double! Don't forget!

Old Skull: OK sir.

Old Skull: That's the police for you. Greedy buggers!

That afternoon, orders must be obeyed.

Old Skull: Hey, you had two visitors earlier, gotta pay up twice.

Cellmate: I know that.

The atmosphere in the family visiting room

Guard: This will be a good day! Lots of visitors!

Inside Indonesia 91: Jan-Mar 2008

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