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As Alcohol Deaths Rise, Indonesia Considers Ban On Consumption

Police use a road roller to destroy bottles of illegal alcohol confiscated in Serpong, out of Jakarta, Indonesia, April 13, 2018.

Indonesian lawmakers have renewed discussions about banning alcohol in the country, amid a rise in fatalities due to the consumption of illegally made liquor. But critics of a proposed bill say a broad prohibition could worsen the use of sometimes dangerous bootleg liquor.

The Indonesian House of Representatives (DPR) included the controversial Alcohol Prohibition Bill among a list of prioritized legislative initiatives for next year, the so-called 2021 Prioritized National Legislation Program (Prolegnas).

The bill was first introduced in 2015 but was put on hold amid wide criticism.

Eighteen lawmakers from three parties, including Islam-based United Development Party (PPP), the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the nationalist Gerindra Party, pushed for the bill to again be considered.

Illiza Saaduddin Djamal, one of the lawmakers from PPP who spearhead the Alcohol Prohibition Bill, says the bill aims to protect the public from the negative effects of alcohol. “We want to raise awareness on the danger of alcohol for health. This bill is also aimed at creating orderliness in the society and prevent incidents caused by drunk people who roam the street harassing people,” she told VOA.

A more narrow focus

But some critics say the proposed bill may be too broad.

Pingkan Audrine, a researcher from the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS), a Jakarta-based policy research organization, says most alcohol related deaths are caused by illegal, homemade liquor.

According to the data compiled by CIPS, from 2014 to 2018, 546 people died after consuming bootleg liquor. Audrine says the highest number was in 2018, with more than one hundred deaths. In more recent cases this year, three people died in Malang, East Java, in May, and two people also fell victim to bootleg alcohol in Depok, West Java, in October.

The researcher says most of consumers of illegal liquor are from lower economic backgrounds because of the price and accessibility of bootleg alcohol.

In this Monday, April 9, 2018, photo, family move the body of a victim who died from drinking poisonous bootleg liquor at a hospital in Cicalengka, West Java, Indonesia.
In this Monday, April 9, 2018, photo, family move the body of a victim who died from drinking poisonous bootleg liquor at a hospital in Cicalengka, West Java, Indonesia.

In Indonesia, alcoholic beverages are only sold in very few stores and the price is considered high due to the alcohol tax. “Our analysis shows that people turn to bootleg liquor because they do not have access to legal ones because it’s expensive or hard to obtain, but they still want to get the effect of alcoholic drinks,” she said.

“If the government is serious about preventing negative effect of alcohol in the community, they should have addressed this problem. But in the draft bill they generalize all alcoholic beverages,” said Audrine. She added the government could have used the high number of fatalities from illegal liquor consumption in 2018 as a case study.

Over Criminalization of Alcohol Consumption

Meanwhile, Maidina Rahmawati, a researcher from the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR), an organization that focuses on criminal law, believes the Alcohol Prohibition Bill, if it is passed as the law, could lead to over-criminalization. Based on the draft released by the House last week, every person who consumes alcohol can be subjected to a maximum of two years in prison or a fine of $3,500.

“We do not agree with the prohibitionist approach of the bill. In the draft it is also stated the law will forbid every form of possession, production and consumption. The DPR says there are problems related to alcohol, such as health problem or drunk driving. It’s the same in other countries, but an approach like this will never solve the problem,” Rahmawati explained.

If anything, she believes such law will only cause the black market, where people sell illegal liquor and alcohol, to thrive. Rahmawati adds by simply prohibiting alcohol, the state basically relinquishes all control of alcohol production and distribution to the black market. “Then it will be more difficult to monitor the distribution of bootleg alcohol and more people will fall victim,” she said.

Rahmawati also says it can potentially put more burden on the Indonesian prison system. “We need to look at our strict drug law, because of it the prison is overcrowded. Now the government is trying to find a solution to ease the burden on the prison, but with a prohibition on alcohol the problem will only get worse,” she told VOA. According to the Directorate General of Correctional at the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, 48 percent of the inmates were convicted of drug-related activities.

An Agenda to Protect the Public

PPP lawmaker Illiza Saaduddin Djamal says the Alcohol Prohibition Bill will be able to cut down on the distribution of dangerous homemade liquor, though there is no mention of bootleg or illegal alcohol in the draft released by the House.

Djamal says the draft legislation includes some exceptions, such as consumption of alcohol for traditional ritual or religious procession. Moreover, tourist areas and certain entertainment venues are also exempted in the draft bill.

Indonesia already imposes high tax on alcoholic drinks, the government set a 150% import duty for products with less than 80% alcohol content. The sale of alcohol is also limited to selected stores and big supermarkets. In 2015 the country banned small convenience stores from selling alcohol, except for Bali province.