Written by Pinky Andrieansyah. Reviewed by Rebeca Marques Rocha.

In recent years, the issue of police violence has taken center stage in discussions about justice, accountability, and the fundamental role of law enforcement in our society. While police misuse of power is widespread, the rights of marginalized communities are particularly violated. This article will discuss how people who use drugs in Indonesia are subject to police abuse and often coerced into private rehabilitation centers that have collusion with the police. Creating a system for financial exploitation, the Indonesian authorities force people who use drugs to spend their own money on facilities or outpatient treatment while not receiving the rehabilitation they need.

Police misuse of power in Indonesia

Indonesians’ public trust in the country’s police force has dropped to an all-time low. The latest report by Human Rights Watch highlights frequent rights abuses perpetrated by the country’s military and police, with impunity being the norm. The issue becomes even more prominent in regions hidden from the international community’s gaze.

In such a climate, people who use drugs become frequent targets of police wrongdoings. In 2022, a journalist investigation exposed how individuals in Indonesia are having their human rights violated by being coerced into rehabilitation institutions. National law determines that individuals caught in possession of narcotics or under the influence of drugs are sent to mandatory rehabilitation. 

These guidelines open room for police malpractice, with officials directing individuals to private rehabilitation centers, where victims are forced to spend excruciating sums of money on outpatient treatment. Corruption schemes are at the center of such transactions as most of the private rehabilitation institutions are in collusion with the police. 

Prison under the guise of treatment

Image source: Project Multatuli

Coerced rehabilitation – a de facto imprisonment

Forced rehabilitation for people who use drugs has raised significant ethical concerns and garnered attention in recent years. Often, such programs are presented to individuals caught in the possession or under the effect of drugs as a health-driven program to address drug-related issues.

Forced treatment programs frequently employ punitive and coercive measures. Coerced into rehabilitation, individuals are stripped of their rights and subjected to physical and psychological violations. Instead of providing a compassionate and supportive environment for recovery, these facilities perpetuate the stigma surrounding drug use and addiction. Such malpractices can deter individuals in need from seeking help voluntarily, making them less likely to engage in the recovery process. 

Research suggests that coerced and involuntary treatment is actually less effective in terms of long-term substance use outcomes and more dangerous in terms of overdose risk. Scholarship and journalistic investigations have evidenced the potential for human rights abuses within compulsory treatment settings.  

Yet, such programs are often employed by governments. Despite the inefficient and often detrimental results, forced rehabilitation can make prohibitionist countries seem progressive from the outside, as they’re no longer arresting people but putting them into “treatment” with prison-like features. In practice, rehabilitation becomes de facto imprisonment.

In Indonesia, forced rehabilitation has also become a source of financial exploitation and corruption.

Treatment or financial exploitation?

Indonesia has some of the harshest drug laws in the world. Possession, trafficking, or any involvement with illegal drugs can lead to severe penalties, including long prison sentences and even the death penalty in some cases. The country’s wicked narcotics legal framework sets the ground for ongoing violations of the human rights of people who use drugs.

For instance, the Kabareskrim Circular Letter SE/01/II/Bareskrim 2018 – a guide given to law enforcement officials such as the Indonesian National Police (​​POLRI) – advises on approaches to handling narcotics cases. It prescribes rehabilitation to people who use drugs caught red-handed with positive urine test results or in the possession of narcotics. 

Mandatory rehabilitation for drug-related offenses is further reinforced by the regulation of the Head of the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) Number 11/2014, which determines the placement of people who are experiencing drug addiction and people who use drugs in medical and social rehabilitation institutions – some provided free of charge in the public system. While the document’s main goal is allegedly providing help to those affected by narcotics use, the regulation institutionalizes forced rehabilitation for people who use drugs.

In this context, coerced rehabilitation for people who use drugs gets even more troubling with police corruption for exploiting individuals for financial interests. Taking advantage of legal provisions, they force victims into private centers where they are stripped of their basic rights while having to disburse large sums of money to pay for their time in these facilities. 

A survivor of such abuses shares their experience: “[…] if I wanted facilities like sleeping with a decent mattress, I had to pay a certain amount of money. Otherwise, I was forced into a room that hosted more people than the maximum amount allowed”. The informant highlights how pressure from authorities and a lack of understanding of their rights contribute to creating the troubling situation in which individuals are often forced into drug or social rehabilitation programs without their consent.

Prison under the guise of treatment

Dormitories in private rehabilitation centers. The facilities are often operating with capacity levels beyond the maximum limits prescribed by the law. Image source: Project Multatuli.

Fixing a wicked legal framework

It is important to ensure that any rehabilitation efforts undertaken for people framed for drug offenses in Indonesia are carried out in good faith, in accordance with the law, and respecting human rights. The government and relevant institutions must work together to ensure that people who use drugs have access to adequate legal aid and rehabilitation services.

In Indonesia, legal instruments such as Bareskrim Polri Circular Letter Number 01/II/2018, Regulation of the Head of BNN Number 11/2014, and Supreme Court Circular Letter Number 4 of 2010 leave space for police malpractice and misuse of power. There needs to be strict monitoring and supervision to prevent abuse of these regulations and ensure adequate protection for individuals convicted of drug offenses. Collaboration between government, law enforcement, and civil society organizations is key to achieving positive outcomes and preventing the misuse of life-saving programs to unlawfully detain and exploit people who use drugs.

Drug treatment is a valid measure for individuals experiencing problematic drug use patterns and, most importantly, voluntarily want to join such programs. Addressing drug-related issues requires an empathetic approach that prioritizes individual choice and evidence-based treatments rather than resorting to punitive, ineffective methods that merely mask a stigmatizing and moralistic stance toward people who use drugs.