Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has ordered the execution of five death-row drug convicts later this month in line with court rulings.
However, the move, which has been described by the government as a demonstration “that the government is fulfilling its promise to act firmly in upholding the law”, has raised questions as to the deterrent effect of the death penalty in Indonesia, which resumed executions in 2013, five years after the last executions, of three Bali bombing convicts, were carried out in 2008.
Jokowi held a meeting with Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno to discuss the death penalty, as well as a plan to sink three foreign vessels caught fishing illegally in Indonesian waters to help deter illegal fishing by foreign ships, on Thursday at the Presidential Office.
Tedjo said it was not a unilateral decision by Jokowi but rather the President was merely implementing sentences that had already been imposed.
“It was not the President’s decision, but the President has instructed the relevant authorities to carry out the legal process correctly. Those [sentences] that have reached legally binding conclusions should be carried out,” Tedjo said after the meeting.
Without revealing the identities or the nationalities of the convicts in question, Tedjo said the five, who were among 64 inmates on death row, would face the firing squad this month.
The government is now waiting for the newly inaugurated Attorney General HM Prasetyo to complete the paperwork required for the execution of the five convicts.
Prasetyo recently announced that 20 other death-row inmates, the majority of whom are drug convicts, would face the firing squad in 2015.
Data from the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) shows that 77 drug traffickers have been on death row since 2004, of whom nine have been executed. Two of these were executed in 2013, including Nigerian drug smuggler Adam Wilson in March of that year and a Pakistani drug smuggler in November.
According to the BNN, 47 of the total are foreigners.
In May 2013, three convicted murders were also executed in Cilacap prison.
Several high-profile drug trafficking cases include 58-year old British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford, whose appeal against her death sentence was rejected by the Supreme Court in August 2013, and two Australians, from the so-called “Bali Nine”, who attempted to smuggle 8 kilogrammes of heroin from Bali to Australia in 2005.
Former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s administration was repeatedly criticised for its lenience toward drug traffickers. In February, for example, Schapelle Corby, an Australian drug trafficker who had been sentenced to 20 years for attempting to smuggle 4.2 grammes of marijuana through Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport, was granted parole.
Despite support from many lawmakers, human rights watchdogs have insisted capital punishment does not have a deterrent effect.
“No matter what the crime is, we oppose the death penalty. Given the multi-layered factors involved in the commission of crime it is not a tool to deter people,” said Zainal Abidin, an activist with the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM). “Not to mention the poor quality of our judiciary that still leaves open the room for wrongful convictions.”
Imparsial and the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) have reaffirmed their stance against the death penalty, saying it should not remain on the country’s statute books as Indonesia had ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which stipulates that every state must protect the right to life.
The issue has also led to mixed opinions among legal experts.
Akhiar Salmi from the University of Indonesia said the death penalty was still justified as long as the case was strong “because those drug smugglers have deprived people of their rights, for example, the right to a healthy life”.