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Jakarta Post

Capital punishment '€” Jokowi'€™s twin policy positions

  • Sarah Gill

    The Jakarta Post

Perth   /   Thu, March 5, 2015   /  07:08 am

As Indonesia moves into the final phase of its preparations for the execution of 10 convicted drug offenders, it'€™s worth pausing for a moment to ponder some disturbing statistics.

These figures, not widely broadcast but readily available, should certainly be a cause for concern for President Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo, who has crafted an image around his response to the twin challenges of Indonesia'€™s alleged '€œdrug emergency'€ and the escalating number of Indonesian nationals facing the death penalty in other countries.

In recent weeks, commentators in Indonesia and abroad have pointed to apparent inconsistencies between the President'€™s determination to show no mercy to drug traffickers while vigorously defending the 229 Indonesian citizens facing execution overseas, 57 percent of whom face drug charges.

Regardless, Jokowi'€™s strategy seems to be a successful one '€” at least on a domestic level '€” aided perhaps by a perception that perpetrators of drug trafficking are largely foreigners. Jokowi has also gained significant traction from appearing to be unswayed by international pressure; shaping the issue into one of national identity and suggesting (inaccurately, as it happens) that any and all appeals constitute an affront to Indonesia'€™s sovereignty.

If the Indonesian government presses ahead with the planned executions, Indonesia will surpass Japan and Yemen and join the 10 nations with the highest annual execution rates '€” an alarming shift for a country which has, to date, applied the death penalty in a relatively modest and discretionary manner.

The preponderance of foreign nationals among the condemned has already been noted more than a few times, as has the fact that, in the post-Soeharto era, only one Indonesian has been executed for drug trafficking.

Indonesian human rights group, Commission for Missing Persons and Victim of Violence (Kontras), pointed out that Indonesia tends to hand down the death penalty to countries with little political impact. Jokowi'€™s pledge in December last year to refuse clemency for all 64 drug convicts on death row may be about to drastically alter that picture. If the President is true to his word, the road he is taking could be a very dangerous one indeed.

While there are minor discrepancies in the figures published by Kontras and by legal website hukumonline.com, the demographics of death-row drug offenders present a serious dilemma for Jokowi. If the 10 prisoners scheduled for imminent execution are excluded, almost half '€” 44 percent '€” of the remaining death-row inmates facing execution are Indonesian nationals.

The Indonesian government'€™s strenuous defense of its own citizens facing execution abroad for drug offenses may become increasingly problematic if it intends to execute its own citizens for the same crime at home.

It may be that Jokowi is prepared to make national distinctions between the victims of international drug trafficking, but that would involve the type of moral gymnastics that would be difficult to defend even to his own countrymen, let alone the international community.

It may be that the President views those who take drugs out of the country as fundamentally different from those who import drugs, or manufacture drugs within Indonesia'€™s borders '€” although it'€™s difficult to imagine there'€™d be much appetite for that line of reasoning in light of the pending execution of Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, who conspired to smuggle drugs from Indonesia to Australia.

Whichever way you look at it, Jokowi'€™s pledge will significantly impair the prospects of securing leniency for the 131 Indonesian drug offenders abroad.

Currently, 360 Indonesians face the death penalty abroad. Based on 2012 data from Migrant Care, 31 citizens were condemned to death and awaiting execution in Malaysia, China and Saudi Arabia. This, too, may present a diabolical dilemma for Jokowi.

Aside from the Indonesian nationals on death row, over a third of the remainder are from countries where Indonesian citizens currently face execution for a range of offences.

Jokowi'€™s vow to refuse clemency to all 64 drug offenders will limit any prospects of reciprocity and almost undoubtedly hamper efforts to save Indonesian citizens, a point which has been stressed by the head of Migrant Care, Anis Hidayah.

No doubt Jokowi has enhanced his political capital through tough rhetoric and an unyielding approach to drug crime. It seems implausible, however, when you look at who'€™s in the firing line, that continuing with this approach will pan out in a positive way for either President Jokowi or for Indonesians in general.

Drug crimes are not just confined to foreign nationals, and it'€™s not just foreigners on death row abroad who are vulnerable under Indonesia'€™s new approach to capital punishment. It'€™s not too late for Indonesia to take a different path before two of Jokowi'€™s rigid policy positions collide. We can only hope the President considers the sobering consequences of this collision before any more lives are lost.
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The writer is a government policy analyst, a freelance writer and researcher. She is undertaking postgraduate studies in law, policy and government at the University of Western Australia.