Ni Komang Erviani, Denpasar – It was a bright Sunday morning when hundreds of Denpasar residents flocked to the area around Puputan Margarana field in Renon, which is a car-free area every Sunday. Some people were exercising while others were just spending the day with family members.
But last Sunday they were in for a surprise. A loud siren blared out from two green minibuses. And then people in orange overalls alighted from the buses, escorted by armed police officers. They were handcuffed and chained at the feet. It was difficult for them to walk while shackled, but the officers prodded them on.
Many people were curious and edged closer. Some took out their phones to record the event. "These are drug suspects who we arrested over the last three weeks," Denpasar Police chief Sr. Comr. Ruddi Setiawan announced.
Twenty-three drug suspects had been transported the 8 kilometers from the Denpasar Police's detention center to Renon for a media conference. The media conference was held in front of the Padarakan Rumeksa Gardapati statue, which was built by the Bali Police in recognition of Bali's fight against drugs and thuggery.
This was not the first media conference to be held at the location by the police. Since the statue was inaugurated in November last year, the police have held several media conferences there, during which they have presented suspects of various crimes. However, it was the first time the police had held a media conference there on a Sunday morning, when the place was crowded.
The measure was met with criticism from drug abuse prevention activists who have been working to eliminate the stigma faced by drug users. Many drug abuse prevention activists believe that drug users deserved help instead of imprisonment.
"I felt concerned, sick and angry when I read the news. How could they do that? That's not the way to deter them. Most of them are victims; don't forget they have rights. The police should remember that before someone is convicted, they should uphold the presumption of innocence," said Erijadi Sulaeman, chairman of the Bali branch of the Association of Indonesian Addiction Counselors (IKAI).
Erijadi emphasized that shaming suspected drug users would not deter them. He said the police should treat users and dealers differently. "Don't mix them up. That's not fair," he said. Erijadi said the police's action on Sunday was a setback for their years of effort in eliminating the stigma users faced.
Erijadi, who is also the operational director of youth group Generasi Bisa Indonesia Bali, voiced hope that the police chief would stop parading drug suspects. "Even a death sentence would not deter them. Freddy Budiman has been executed, but drug abuse cases are still on the rise. It shows that it doesn't work," he said.
Novian Hariawan, a former drug user who is now an addiction counselor, also criticized the measure. "For me, it's a violation of their rights," the member of the Bali drug victim association (IKON Bali) said.
Novian said that violence and shaming would not stop people from abusing drugs, but help would. "They have to be embraced," he emphasized.
The Denpasar Police, however, think differently. "We want to give them some social punishment, apart from the criminal punishment. I will shame all drug offenders. It will deter them," police chief Ruddi said.
"We wish all people would participate and remind them to stay healthy without drugs. By holding a press conference here, everyone can see the faces of these drug offenders," he went.
During the media conference, Ruddi announced that the Denpasar Police's drug unit had arrested 23 suspected drug offenders in the last three weeks. Drugs reportedly seized from the 23 suspects include 406.94 grams of crystal methamphetamine, 232 ecstasy pills, 448.9 grams of synthetic marijuana and 77.70 grams of heroin. "They are drug dealers, couriers and users," Ruddi said, adding that five of the 23 suspects were repeat offenders.
The police started handcuffing and shackling suspects in public in December. "Besides preventing them from escaping, it is also a reminder to all. When you are arrested for drugs, you will be handcuffed and chained. Not only here, but also while in detention," Rudi emphasized.
All male drug suspects are also shaved bald by the police. "We will make them repent so that they realize it's not good to abuse drugs," Ruddi added.