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Indonesia's top lawman stokes execution fears

New attorney-general indicates capital punishment will resume soon after reviewing cases

Indonesia's top lawman stokes execution fears

An Indonesian woman lights a candle during an anti-execution rally in Jakarta in July 2016. (Photo by Bay Ismoyo/AFP)

Rights activists in Indonesia fear an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty could end soon after the new attorney-general said he was reviewing the legal status of hundreds of death row inmates and would send to the firing squad all those who met the necessary requirements.

Sanitiar Burhanuddin, who only took office last week, said in a statement on Oct. 28 that he wanted to determine which of the 308 death row inmates across the country — most of whom were convicted on drugs charges — no longer have the right to appeal.

He said he has asked officials to recheck the legal status of the inmates before proceeding with their execution.

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“I can give an assurance that those who can no longer appeal will be executed,” Burhanuddin said without providing further details.

The comments were condemned by rights groups.

Usman Hamid, director of Amnesty International Indonesia, said any such move would damage the country’s reputation within the international community, especially since Burhanuddin's comments came on the heels of the country being elected to the UN Human Rights Council.

He said efforts to help Indonesian death row inmates overseas could also be undermined, especially since a number of those condemned to death are foreigners.

He also said Buhanuddin’s comments ran counter to newly installed governments generally stepping back from carrying out executions.

The last executions took place in 2016 when four inmates were shot by firing squad after being convicted of drug trafficking.    

“Usually, abandoning the death penalty is the new policy for a newly elected government, such as we have seen in Malaysia. but Indonesia is moving in the wrong direction," the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Hamid as saying.

He reminded lawmakers that there is no evidence that the death penalty has a deterrent effect on crime. He cited an increase in drug convictions in 2016, saying the number rose to 881, up from 644 the previous year.

Teguh Budiono from the Sant’Egidio Community in Indonesia, a Catholic lay group that promotes life, criticized Buhanuddin’s comments.

“The death penalty will not reduce criminality,” Budiono said, adding that the government would better serve society by protecting human life and dignity.

He said that instead of ending the lives of inmates, the government should promote the culture of life and create laws to protect human life and dignity.

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