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FP: Indonesia Has Second Thoughts on Capital Punishment  Tapol
 Oct 21, 2012 10:08 PDT 

From Joyo


FP: Indonesia Has Second Thoughts on Capital Punishment

October 19, 2012

Foreign Policy Magazine
By Endy Bayuni

Capital punishment has never been a contentious political or emotional
issue in Indonesia. Although the death penalty is rarely applied, most
people in the country still support its use, particularly for
terrorists, serial killers, and even drug traffickers. The government
would typically add treason to the short list of criminal offenses
punishable by death.

So it comes as something of a surprise for Indonesia's small
anti-capital punishment lobby that the issue has now been brought into
public debate -- and even more so because the initiative came from the
government.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been quietly using his
constitutional prerogative to grant pardons to drug convicts on death
row, commuting their sentences to life imprisonment. Thanks to him, 19
drug offenders have been spared from the gallows since 2004.

What more, his decision appears to be going against the grain of
majority opinion. Critics recall his 2004 election campaign promise
(he was reelected in 2009) that he would wage war against drug
traffickers and make sure they are punished in the severest terms,
including death.

The Supreme Court -- with which the president is supposed to consult
before granting pardons -- said that, in most of these cases, it did
not recommend commuting death sentences to life terms. To the
contrary, it has defended the death penalty as part of the country's
legal system.

So where did this government impetus to reduce the number of death
sentences come from?

An explanation came from Vice Minister for Law and Human Rights Denny
Indrayana, during a seminar held this week to mark the International
Day Against the Death Penalty, and it makes sense. The government's
move is part of an effort to spare some of the 197 Indonesians facing
death row abroad.

In other words, the government feels that if Indonesia shows more
leniency, avoids using the death penalty or even abolishes it, this
could become a powerful lobbying tool to save its own citizens
convicted abroad.

This is not a question of reciprocity. Most of the Indonesians
sentenced to death abroad are in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, while
Indonesia does not have any Saudis in its jails awaiting execution; if
there are Malaysians among the 100 or so on death row in Indonesia,
the number is unlikely to match the number of Indonesians in Malaysia.
Of the 19 people whose death penalties were commuted by President
Yudhoyono, only three were foreigners.

Still, the fact that Indonesia still has the death penalty on its
books makes it difficult for the government, and particularly
Indonesian embassies abroad, to make the case on behalf of its
citizens to have their death sentences commuted as well.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Marty Natalegawa said Indonesia is one of
58 countries in the world that still uses capital punishment. He fell
short of advocating its abolition entirely, but noted that most of the
world has been moving in that direction.

It isn't clear how much support there is in Indonesia for the
abolition of capital punishment, but statements and actions from the
government indicate that it wants to open a public debate, and to
receive at least some support for its diplomatic efforts to commute
the sentences.

The last public consensus maintained that Indonesia should keep the
death penalty for the most heinous of crimes. The Nahdlatul Ulama, an
influential Islamic mass organization, even demanded that corruption
be added to the list of capital offenses.

With Indonesians travelling abroad more, including many migrant
workers, some of them will inevitably get into serious trouble. While
Indonesians probably have little sympathy for drug traffickers, some
Indonesian workers, including young women serving as domestic helpers,
have received death sentences for committing murders which many here
regard as self defense against abusive employers.

Now Indonesia may argue that it is using the death penalty sparingly.
Even fewer sentences have been executed due to the complexity and
length of the legal appeals and case reviews. Many on death row will
likely spend long years in prison before their fate is settled. The
last reported execution in Indonesia happened in 2008: A total of
eight persons went before the firing squad, including three Islamic
terrorists responsible for the 2002 bombings that killed over 200
people on the holiday island of Bali.

But as long as the death penalty is still legally in the books, it
will be difficult for Indonesia to ask foreign governments to show
leniency for its own citizens sentenced to death.

The debate on capital punishment in Indonesia is just beginning.
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