A dire situation exists in many Indonesian prisons with massive overcrowding, rampant drug abuse and an acute lack of access to basic needs, according to an activist freed recently after serving a jail term for treason.
Surya Anta, a pro-Papua independence activist, was jailed in November 2019 and released in May. Over the past several days he has shared his prison experiences on Twitter. Anta said he served his sentence in Jakarta’s Salemba Penitentiary which was exceeding its 1,500-inmate capacity by holding 4,300 prisoners.
He said the prison was so overcrowded many inmates were forced to sleep in hallways, and if they wanted a room, they had to pay, he said. The situation was similar in many other Indonesian prisons, he said, adding he managed to document some of the conditions using a mobile phone.
Anta was jailed with five other Papuan activists for joining a protest to support Papuan independence in Jakarta in August last year. He said when they first arrived at the prison, they were told by other prisoners to pay a one million rupiah [US$68], entrance fee but in the end, they could only pay half.
“It was because we were activists, not relatives of [government] officials,” he said.
He also said drugs were offered around freely among prisoners. Anta, a Christian, said the only positive moments while behind bars were visits by church people, both Protestant and Catholic, who offered prayers in the chapel where they enjoyed the cool air and good food.
He told UCA News on July 15 he was sharing his experiences because he wants to see systematic changes, not only to the prison system but also to the legal system as a whole.
“Many of the people in prison should not have been there, such as drug users or those involved in minor gambling,” he said. “Many are just victims of a legal system that seeks to jail people at the drop of a hat,” he said.
He said the whole legal process was being stained by extortion.
“There are drug users who were charged as drug dealers. If they want to be prosecuted as a user, which carries a lighter sentence they have to pay. Those who cannot are jailed for longer,” he said.
Since sharing his experiences online, many people have contacted him to tell similar stories.
“There are former prisoners who have thanked me because I dare to expose this [inhumane situation],” he said.
According to the Justice Monitoring Coalition — a collection of rights groups — the number of inmates in Indonesian jails as of March had reached 270,466, far exceeding prison capacity which can only accommodate 132,335 people.
“Unfortunately, the government seems to ignore that the root cause of the overcrowding problem is its crime and punishment policies.”
Agreeing with Anta, the coalition said, it was necessary to prioritize restorative justice, especially in cases such as drugs. In light of Anta’s social media posts, Justice and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly said he had sent a team to investigate conditions in Salemba Penitentiary.