INDONESIA is seeing a spike in deaths related to the consumption of bootleg liquor in recent weeks, alarming authorities who have vowed to clamp down on the illicit sale of unlicensed alcoholic beverages.
Police said eighty-two Indonesians have died and many more have been hospitalised after drinking tainted bootleg liquor last week.
The deaths occurred in the capital Jakarta and neighbouring province of West Java and at least a dozen men had been detained on suspicion of making and distributing the drink, police said.
“This is a crazy phenomenon that has caused tremendous loss for the public in the past week,” said deputy national police chief Syafruddin, as quoted by Reuters.
“We must trace it to the roots, who the masterminds are and the distributors.”
Laboratory tests showed that nearly pure alcohol had been mixed with herbal drinks and energy drinks with high caffeine. Police had previously said at least one suspected bootlegger had added mosquito repellent to the mix.
Police raided street stalls and homes across several cities towns and found large steel and rubber tanks used to mix the drinks. Thousands of bottles and small plastic bags of the drinks, which police said could sell for as little as IDR20,000 (US$1.45) per bag, were seized.
Muslim-majority Indonesia imposes high rates of tax on alcohol, which sometimes leads to people turning to cheap home brews.
“The rise in the number of people who have died after drinking bootleg liquor is related to the prohibition of alcoholic beverage distribution and sales in areas across Indonesia as well as liquor sale restrictions stipulated in a Trade Ministry regulation,” CIPS researcher Sugianto Tandra said on Monday, as quoted by the Jakarta Post.
Deaths from such consumption are reported frequently, but the latest toll is among the highest in recent years. In 2016, 36 people died after drinking locally made liquor, according to media.