In recent weeks preman, a common term for a thug or gangster, have once again hit the headlines. The arrest of well-known underworld figure John Kei on charges of murder together with gang-related killings in Jakarta was followed by the announcement of what have now become regular police-led anti-thug campaigns. Serious questions remain however as to whether this is the best way to address the preman problem.
Reportedly on the direct orders of President Susilo Bambang Yudho-yono, this latest operation resulted in over 2,900 arrests, though only 476 were formally charged with a criminal offense.
Far from reducing the problem of organized thuggery, however, anti-thug campaigns have in practice facilitated the growth and power of organized groups linked to thuggery, while unnecessarily targeting the poor and vulnerable.
In order to understand how this has occurred, it...