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Jakarta Post

Cruelty of the death penalty

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, October 12, 2020   /   08:37 am
Cruelty of the death penalty Death penalty illustration. (JP/Budhi Button)

Merri Utami, a drug convict on death row, has been spared the death sentence after asking for the President’s clemency in July 2016. But she deserves more, given the miscarriage of justice that has continued to plague the country. Merri is among 358 death row inmates who are awaiting execution in the country, four of them for 20 years. Merri was sentenced to death in 2002 after her ex-boyfriend tricked her into carrying 1.1 kilograms of heroin from Nepal to Indonesia. She also claimed to have signed a confession of guilt as a result of torture during interrogation.

Indonesia has maintained the death penalty it inherited from its former colonial master, at a time when more countries have abolished the cruel form of punishment. By the end of 2019, no less than 106 countries have completely eliminated capital punishment.

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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Indonesia adopts, protects the right to life and the right to live free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Indonesia, however, justifies the death sentence by claiming it deters serious crimes like drug trafficking, terrorism and premeditated murder. After taking office in 2014, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo ordered the execution of convicted drug dealers, mostly foreign nationals.

Data from Reprieve, a nonprofit organization focusing on ending the death penalty, shows that 146 people were sentenced to death in 2017-2019, with 63 in 2019 alone.

The Jokowi administration has put executions on hold since 2016, but shortly after his appointment, Attorney General ST Burhanuddin in October 2019 pledged to resume state killings. The government has drafted a revision of the Correctional Law, which would allow a death row prisoner’s sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment after 10 years in jail, but its legislation process was halted last year following mass protests. As part of the revision, the new law would make it easier for graft convicts to receive a reduced jail term and be released on parole.

In commemorating World Day Against the Death Penalty and World Mental Health Day on Saturday, human rights groups renewed their call on the government to abolish the death penalty, not only because the country’s judiciary system is prone to mistakes, but also because of human rights violations and the mental anguish death-row inmates have endured.

Reprieve researcher Teresa Prasetio said the group found that anxiety and mental stress resulting from poor prison conditions were “additional punishment that is actually very cruel, inhumane and degrading to human dignity”.

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There are reasons for the government to listen to the aspirations of groups who are against the death penalty. Execution is the ultimate and irrevocable punishment, while mistakes, including in Indonesia, often happen. There is a great risk of killing an innocent person, which perhaps was one of the reasons Jokowi decided on a moratorium.

Capital punishment has so far been ineffective in deterring drug trafficking, as the government has claimed. Oftentimes, law enforcers discover the crimes were orchestrated inside prisons.

Jokowi can show Merri mercy, but to end this cruelty, he can initiate a complete end to the death penalty.