By Laignee Barron
Updated: August 17, 2018 3:44 AM ET

At least 31 people have been killed by police in Indonesia amid an escalating crackdown on petty crime as the country prepares to host the Asian Games, according to Amnesty International.

Officers have been instructed to shore up public safety ahead of the major sporting event, and have adopted a shoot on sight policy against suspects who resist, the Guardian reports.

The security operation has prompted concern among international rights groups, fearing that police have taken the instructions as “a license to kill.”

At least 77 criminal suspects have been shot dead across Indonesia between January and August, a 64% increase over the same period last year, by Amnesty’s count. Of those killings, 31 were directly connected with the coming games, which open Saturday in Jakarta and Palembang.

“The hosting of an international sporting event must not come at the price of abandoning human rights. The killings must stop and all deaths must be promptly and effectively investigated,” Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia told the Guardian.

The killings come as the capital undertakes an intense “clean-up” campaign in preparation for the games, including much-ridiculed efforts to hide urban blights like polluted rivers.

At least 12,000 athletes are expected to compete in the 18th Asian Games — the largest multi-sport competition outside the Olympics, according to the Guardian. More than 100,000 police and soldiers will provide security during the event.

But rights groups say the games are serving as a pretext for a wider crackdown.

“The Asian Games are intended to celebrate human achievement, not provide a pretext for a police ‘shoot to kill’ policy in the name of crime control,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Some Indonesian officials have praised the Philippines’ war on drugs and its extrajudicial killing of suspects as a model for handing crime.

“From practice in the field we see that when we shoot at drug dealers they go away,” Indonesia’s national police chief Tito Karniavan said last year.

Write to Laignee Barron at Laignee.Barron@timeinc.com.

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