New narcotics agency chief says he’ll keep predecessor’s policy of shooting resisting drug dealers

President Joko Widodo (right) shaking hands with the new head of the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) Heru Winarko. (Photo: Cabinet Secretariat Office)
President Joko Widodo (right) shaking hands with the new head of the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) Heru Winarko. (Photo: Cabinet Secretariat Office)

Last Wednesday, the former head of Indonesia’s National Narcotics Agency (BNN), Budi Waseso, retired and handed over the reigns of the drug enforcement agency to his successor, Heru Winarko, who had previously been the law enforcement deputy of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

Budi’s tenure as the head of BNN will probably be remembered for two things: one silly (his plans to build a remote island prison for drug dealers, guarded by crocodiles, which made for mocking international headlines but never materialized) and one deadly serious – the sharp increase in the number of drug dealers shot and killed by police, allegedly while resisting arrest.

While some are optimistic that Heru’s experience with the KPK will help improve the integrity of BNN, the new drug czar indicated that he would continue Budi’s policy of asking officers to shoot drug dealers immediately should they show any signs of resistance.

“I also have experience with drug dealers, if they are resisting and they have a weapon, yes there is no choice (other than shooting them),” Heru said when asked about the policy during a press conference at BNN’s Jakarta office today as quoted by Kompas.

Indonesia is known for having incredibly harsh drug laws, including the death penalty for high-level drug dealers. However, the government has essentially put a moratorium on the death penalty following international condemnation surrounding previous rounds of executions, the last of which took place in July 2016.

But since then, both Budi and President Joko Widodo spoke often about the need for police officers arresting drug dealers to “not hesitate” to shoot if they met any resistance.

Many thought their words echoed those of Philippine’s President Rodrigo Duterte, who commanded his police force to aggressively go after drug dealers and shoot any who resisted. With a death toll now in the thousands (as many as 12,000 by the estimation of some activists), there is extensive evidence to show that many of those killed in Duterte’s drug war did not resist but were executed by police officers.

While the drug war’s casualties are not nearly as bad numerically in Indonesia, the president and the former BNN chief’s harsh language clearly had a disturbing impact on drug enforcement tactics. In 2017, police reported shooting and killing 79 suspected drug dealers who supposedly resisted arrest. That’s a huge increase from the 14 killed under the same circumstances in 2016 and the 10 killed in 2015.

There is, of course, the possibility that Heru simply said he would maintain Budi’s shoot-if-resisting policy since saying otherwise might be very problematic (surveys show that Indonesians overwhelmingly approve of the death penalty for drug dealers). We’ll just have to wait and see if the drug war’s body count keeps increasing under his watch.

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