Indonesia’s strict laws and heavy import duties on alcohol make it very difficult and prohibitively expensive for many people who want to get drunk to actually get inebriated, at least on legal regulated liquor. That has created a huge black market for illegal alcohol in Indonesia that kills hundreds of people per year. Just in the Greater Jakarta Metro Area, as many as 21 people are suspected of having died due to consuming illegal, tainted alcohol since Sunday.
The deaths were spread throughout the capital region, with police saying seven people died due to oplosan (tainted liquor) in Duren Sawit, East Jakarta and five in Jagakarsa, South Jakarta. Police in Jakarta’s satellite city of Depok reported six suspected alcohol deaths while those in Tangerang reported three more.
Police said the seven killed in Duren Sawit were all believed to have purchased a “ginseng” based alcoholic beverage on Sunday night. Three more remain in critical condition at Pondok Kopi Islamic Hospital.
South Jakarta Police originally announced three suspected oplosan deaths in Jagakarsa but confirmed that two more had died yesterday. The victims are also believed to have consumed a ginseng-based alcoholic beverage. Officials said they had already arrested the vendor who allegedly sold the tainted spirits.
In Depok, police reported that six have died while six more remained in the hospital in critical condition. From their investigations, the victims in Depok also purchased their tainted alcohol from a seller in Jagakarsa.
Tangerang Police Chief Cisoka Amanta Wijaya said the three men who died due to suspected alcohol poisoning in his jurisdiction are believed to have died on Saturday after drinking together at a cemetary some time before. They have not yet revealed the source of their alcohol.
Police have not yet announced if all of the tainted alcohol came from the same source, but based on the reports it seems likely that is the case.
This sadly would not be the first mass death due to tainted alcohol in Jakarta. In 2013, 13 youths in Kemayoran, Central Jakarta, all died due to alcohol poisoning after drinking a concoction containing bootleg liquor.
There has long been controversy over proposed legislation that would ban all alcohol production and sales in Indonesia. Although many conservative and religious politicians like to mention their support of the bill to score cheap political points, the country’s largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), stated last year that it would be against full prohibition after a study they commissioned found that a large number of young people in Jakarta drink oplosan regularly and can obtain it easily.
The survey, done by NU’s Institute for Human Resource Research and Development (Lakpesdam), showed that about 65 percent of teenagers in Jakarta have drunk oplosan. The vast majority of those respondents (71.5%) said they obtained the illegal drink from warung jamu (stalls selling herbal drinks), with smaller percentages saying they had gotten them through grocery stores or friends.
NU said the survey was done over 6 months and involved 327 respondents ages 12-21. The study indicated that there has been a rise in alcoholism amongst teenagers after Jakarta’s minimarket beer ban went into effects and youths were driven to purchase liquor from black market sources. The survey also showed teens were ignorant about the possible health risks of oplosan.
In response to their findings, NU has officially come out in opposition of a total alcohol ban in favor of regulated controls.
“As a Muslim, of course, alcohol is still haram (forbidden). But this is not about halal or haram, this is about saving our younger generation, this is about making an effective policy,” Abdul Wahid Hasyim, the head of NU Lakpesdam Jakarta, told the Straits Times.