Indonesia's harsh drug laws have not succeeded in stopping illicit drug use in the Southeast Asian archipelago, and now some of the people those laws are aimed at are speaking out. On Monday, denizens of some of Jakarta's most notorious drug dealing spots were witness to an usual demonstration as two dozen motorcyclists roared through them calling for the legalization of drug use.
According to the Jakarta Post, the bikers were members of a drug user group called the Forum for Victims of Drug Addiction, or Forkon. They stopped in such notorious locales as Baturaja in North Jakarta, Tanah Abang in Central Jakarta, and Manggarai in South Jakarta to hand out fliers making their case.
Drug use should not be a crime, Forkon coordinator Yana told the Post. "It's a disease that needs to be treated, not punished," the 28-year-old said.
Ilicit drugs are easily available in Indonesia, Forkon members said, despite a pair of 1997 laws mandating prison sentences of six months to six years for convicted drug users, and sentences up to the death penalty for trafficking offenses. On Wednesday, Indonesian officials said that they would execute 39 convicted drug traffickers by the end of 2009.
Drug users and even uninvolved people in the neighborhood of a raid are often arrested and subjected to abuses while detained, Forkon members said. One former drug user, Maya, added, "Women also face sexual abuse." Maya said she is conducting research on the physical abuses endured by female drug addicts in detention.
While a drug use legalization demo in Jakarta may come as a surprise to many, it is the second one this year. In late June, Indonesia drug user activists and others used the occasion of the UN's International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking to hold a march in Jakarta where they called for an end to discrimination against people who use drugs, the implementation of laws decriminalizing drug use, and programs to prevent HIV in prisons.
The June protestors asked the Indonesian government to fulfill its mandate to ensure the right to health for all and to provide drug treatment, including medication-assisted treatment. This week's protestors called on the government to change the drug laws. The group said it had urged both the National Commission on Human Rights and the House of Representatives to act.
"We'll continue with our campaign until parliament repeals the 1997 laws," Yana said.