Zakir Hussain – Straits Times
Jakarta. More than 100 inmates are on death row in Indonesia, some for well over 10 years.
But no one has been executed in the past four years, since three Bali bombers and seven others were dispatched by firing squad in 2008.
Last month, Indonesian officials admitted to being influenced by the global trend that frowns on the death penalty on humanitarian grounds.
They also feel loosening the noose at home might help Indonesia better campaign for its citizens to be spared from death row abroad, at a time when recent executions have proven to be emotionally charged occasions at home.
“There is a de facto moratorium on the death penalty,” prominent lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis told The Straits Times. “There is also a realization that imposing the death penalty does not deter crime or solve problems, be it corruption, drugs or terrorism.”
This reluctance to execute is not unique. A weakening stomach for the death penalty in Indonesia comes at a time when several neighbors, including Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, are loosening up on its application and reviewing existing death row cases.
Five other Asean countries have either abolished it or not executed anyone in decades, while Vietnam changed the method of execution from firing squad to lethal injection last year.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told a recent press briefing: “There has been a sharp increase in the number of countries which have abolished the death penalty from their laws because it is not consistent with human rights.”
He noted that 140 of 193 United Nations members have either abolished or imposed a moratorium on the death penalty. “Indonesia itself is moving towards that direction,” he said.
Marty’s update itself was prompted by a recent decision by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to grant clemency to four inmates on death row for drug offenses, which drew a backlash from some quarters.
And soon after Marty’s remarks, his spokesman clarified that although there had been a reduction in death sentences meted out, Indonesia would still retain the penalty.
However, observers say only a handful of those on death row, if any, were likely to face execution.
While activist Alvon Kurnia Palma of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation welcomed this new reality, he told The Straits Times that the dozens who are now on death row need some legal certainty as their fates will remain in limbo otherwise.
One welcome move is that several judges, in commuting death sentences on appeal, have cited the constitutional guarantee of the right to life.
Critics, however, doubt leniency will spare Indonesians who are on death row abroad. For example, some 50 citizens who potentially face the death penalty in Saudi Arabia are unlikely to be spared, given that no Saudi nationals are on death row in Indonesia.
Foreign Ministry figures show, as of last year, 143 Indonesians were on trial in Malaysia for offenses that could attract the death penalty. Of these, 17 were on death row and awaiting clemency.
Anti-drug campaigners and leaders of the largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, have also attacked the trend against executions as a sign that the government is going soft on drugs and crime.
But human rights monitor Imparsial’s executive director Poengky Indarti said: “Many parties, especially conservatives and especially on religious grounds, continue to view the death penalty as a commandment from God that must be carried out.
“They need to be made aware that the right to live is also a commandment from God.”
Lawyer Todung suggested the government introduce life sentences without parole for the most heinous crimes.
“If you explain the severity of this, opponents will probably change their mind,” he said.
“My reading is the President understands the trends. I hope that in the remaining two years of his presidency, there will be no executions taking place.”
Reprinted courtesy of The Straits Times