A man arrested for drug trafficking sits in front of Indonesian customs agents during a press conference in Padang last month (AFP Photo/Rus Akbar)
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday urged Indonesia’s president to commute the death sentences of five people set to be executed before the end of the year amid a marked increase in capital punishment sentences.
In a statement issued by the US-based rights group, HRW deputy Asia director Phelim Kine said President Joko Widodo should “recognize that the death penalty is a barbaric punishment, not a crime deterrent”.
“If Widodo is serious about making Indonesia a regional model of a modern, rights-respecting democratic state, he should start by joining the countries that have abolished capital punishment.”
In 2013, Indonesia resumed the death penalty four years after banning it, citing the need for harsher penalties in particular to deter drug trafficking. Last year, five people were executed.
A spokesman for the Attorney-General’s Office (AGO) this week defended the planned executions, which would be the first of the year, saying there could be little hope for clemency.
“The Attorney-General’s Office never has doubts in carrying out executions. The death penalty is recognized in Indonesia. We must be consistent. How can the Attorney-General’s Office say no to carrying out executions if all judges have agreed on this?” AGO spokesman Tony T Spontana told ucanews.com on Wednesday.
Of the five on death row, three have been convicted of drug trafficking and two of involvement in premeditated murders, said Spontana.
An estimated 20 people convicted of drug trafficking are slated for execution next year.
“We plan to execute 20 drug convicts on death row next year. But it can be more or less than 20. These 20 drug convicts on death row are the ones who are ready. To be sure, they have gone through the last legal process: judicial review.”
Indonesia’s death penalty — in which convicts, typically drug offenders, are executed by firing squad — has drawn staunch criticism from rights groups and the Catholic Church.
Father Paulus C Siswantoko, secretary of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference’s (KWI) Commission for Justice, Peace and Pastoral for Migrant-Itinerant People, said that there were no justifiable circumstances for capital punishment.
“No matter what the reason is and who the victim is,” he told ucanews.com.
“The Catholic Church truly respects life. None can take away life, including the state,” he added. “Drug convicts on death row have the right to be protected.”
The state’s legal system remained imperfect, he said, adding that it was impossible to know if all those convicted were truly culpable. “Can President Joko Widodo assure us that they are drug traffickers? We doubt it.”
According to the AGO, there are 136 inmates currently on death row, with 64 of them sentenced for drug trafficking, two for terrorism, and the rest for murder and robberies with aggravated assault.
Early this month, President Widodo told university students in Yogyakarta that the 64 drug convicts on death row are drug traffickers and he would not approve their clemency appeals as it served as a crime deterrent, or “shock therapy”.
Father Siswantoko brushed aside such claims.
“Is there any research showing that the death penalty is commensurate with a crime? Can the death penalty guarantee that drugs cases will be lower in number? President Joko Widodo must not sacrifice a life if such a goal can’t be reached,” he said.
“Such a shock therapy, which has been implemented so far, has no impact at all if the international network of drug trafficking isn’t cut down,” echoed Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, secretary of the national council of the Jakarta-based Setara Institute.
“What [we] need right now is a war against a mafia that often gets protection from powerful people,” said the priest, who is also the former secretary of the KWI’s Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
Natalius Pigai from the National Commission on Human Rights maintained that the death penalty violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Indonesia ratified in 2005, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the 1999 Law on Human Rights and the 1945 Constitution.
“We realize that drugs have become an enemy of all human beings. But drug traffickers don’t have to be necessarily sentenced to death. We can’t just kill a murderer. Where does such a principle come from?” he told ucanews.com.
According to Pigai, the death penalty is a sadistic act committed by the state. “It allows the state to commit a crime, which is against human rights,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence told local media over the weekend that it will file a complaint with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights over the planned executions.
“We will make a report to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights over this matter immediately,” Chrisbiantoro told Kompas.com.
In a statement released early this month, London-based rights group Amnesty International called on authorities to immediately halt the planned executions.
“[We] call on them to establish a moratorium on all executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty and to commute all death sentences to terms of imprisonment,” the statement said.
Commenting on such criticisms, AGO spokesman Spontana said there was little recourse for such requests.
“We put ourselves in the circle of pros and cons. Our foundation is the existing law.”