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Jakarta Post

'Overcrowded', filled with 'drug trade': Papuan rights activist shares life behind bars in Jakarta's Salemba

  • Moch. Fiqih Prawira Adjie

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, July 15, 2020   /   06:30 am
'Overcrowded', filled with 'drug trade': Papuan rights activist shares life behind bars in Jakarta's Salemba According to data compiled by the Justice Monitoring Coalition -- a group of civil society organizations -- Indonesia's prisons and detention centers held up to 270,466 inmates as of March, about 104 percent above their capacity of 132,335 prisoners. (ICRC/-)

Problems surrounding Indonesia's correctional facilities have once again come under the spotlight after a Papuan rights activist shared his past experience living behind bars at Central Jakarta's Salemba Penitentiary, which he described as overcrowded, filled with illicit drug trade and inmates struggling to fulfill basic needs.

Surya Anta, one of six Papuan rights activists who recently completed their sentence for treason, gave his candid story over the weekend about the situation he had gone through in the prison between November 2019 and May 2020 through a series of posts on his Twitter account @SuryaAnta.

Surya and his colleagues were arrested in August last year after staging a protest supporting Papua's independence in Jakarta. The court sentenced him and four others to nine months' imprisonment, while the other one was given an eight-month prison sentence, for treason in April. All of them had been released by late May.

In his Twitter posts, Surya said that upon entering the penitentiary, he and four of his friends lived for a month inside what they called a "Ruangan Masa Pengenalan Lingkungan" or Adaptation Room, where there were about 420 inmates occupying a 20-square-meter space that only had two toilets.

Read also: Overcrowded and understaffed, prisons scramble to protect inmates from infection

He also included photographs as proof, which he said were made possible by "mobile phones trade and service" business inside the facility.

Surya added that the whole facility was "overcrowded" as it housed about 4,300 inmates when he arrived there, exceeding its maximum capacity of 1,500.

"Inmates sleep like boiled fish lined up. [We] often have to tilt our bodies so that we can sleep," he wrote in one of the posts uploaded on Sunday.

When they first arrived, Surya said he and his friends were asked by other inmates to pay between Rp 1 million (US$68.78) and Rp 3 million each. They eventually paid Rp 500,000 after the inmates discovered that they were activists and not "sons of officials."

In the room, Surya said the inmates had to drink water that Surya describes as "sticky" and gave some of the inmates a sore throat. If they wanted to cook instant noodles or brew coffee, Surya said they had to boil the water with plastic bottles, which often created fumes that caused illness among them.

"This one time, I had a fever and my nose was bleeding, but the procedure to go to the clinic was very complicated," he wrote.

After spending one month there, Surya and his friends were able to enter a cell, which he said inmates actually had to pay to stay in, as others with no money had to sleep in the hallways of the penitentiary.

He also suggested that money was a necessity as he had to buy and cook on his own to offset the little amount of food provided by the facility, and to purchase other staple needs such as water, cleaning supplies and for electricity maintenance.

Surya had also found illicit "drug trade" activities in the penitentiary. In his cell, which was divided into three rooms, Surya said one of the rooms was known as a "pharmacy" designated for selling methamphetamine. He also said a "meth salesperson" walked around to offer and sell meth and marijuana to inmates in the Adaptation Room.

When contacted by The Jakarta Post, Surya said he initially posted the pictures and stories to look back on the time he spent in jail. "But I know that problems in detention centers and prisons are inseparable from our regulations, systems, implementation and law enforcement actors," he said Tuesday.

Surya argued that an insufficient number of correctional facilities, coupled with the punitive attitude of Indonesian authorities, were among the reasons for overcrowding prisons in the country.

According to data compiled by the Justice Monitoring Coalition -- a group of civil society organizations -- Indonesia's prisons and detention centers held up to 270,466 inmates as of March, about 104 percent above their capacity of 132,335 prisoners.

The coalition further called the government and the House of Representatives on Tuesday to amend the Criminal Code and improve the country's criminal justice system, as well as to reform the punitive approach against drug users and focus on using a health approach to handle cases of drug abuse instead.

Read also: BNN busts drug ring allegedly controlled by Salemba inmate

"[Surya's] finding is not surprising, but it remains a cause for concern because this condition continues without any comprehensive solutions," the coalition said in a statement on Tuesday.

Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly said Monday that he had sent a team to investigate the condition of Salemba Penitentiary. "We will check whether [the findings] are true or not."

The spokesperson of the ministry's Corrections Directorate General, Rika Aprianti, conceded that there was an overcrowding issue in Salemba Penitentiary, which she said currently housed 3,249 prisoners compared to its 1,500 capacity. She added that the facility was also understaffed.

"However, we have continued efforts to provide corrections for all prisoners and inmates, eradicate illegal levies as well as drug trade," Rika said on Monday.

Rika, however, did not provide comments when asked by the Post about Surya's claims of payment to afford a prison cell in Salemba Penitentiary.

Ghina Ghaliya contributed to the report.

 

Editor's note: The heading, as well as the first and second paragraphs of this article have been revised for accuracy. Surya Anta is an activist advocating the rights of Papuan people, but he himself is not of Papuan descent.