The nation fumed with rage upon hearing of the unexpected beheading of migrant worker Royati binti Sapubi in Saudi Arabia last week, prompting the Indonesian government to go on a mission to save hundreds more citizens facing the death penalty abroad. Ironically, there are still many foreigners in this country’s own backyard awaiting execution.
Just one day before Royati was executed by Saudi authorities for the murder her female employer, Indonesia’s Supreme Court quashed a final death sentence appeal by Australian Andrew Chan, a member of the so-called Bali Nine convicted for attempting to smuggle more than eight kilograms of heroin off the resort island in 2005.
Chan’s fate is now in the hands of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the only one with the power to grant him clemency. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has joined Chan’s family in their plea for mercy, stating that her government would “put as much force as we can into the appeal for clemency.”
Her request seems to be an uphill battle.
Indonesia is one of the countries that refused to jump on the bandwagon when the United Nations passed a resolution in 2007 calling for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty.
And Yudhoyono’s administration in particular is known for its stubbornness when it comes to refusing to pardon those on death row.
In 2006, for example, Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva appealed to Yudhoyono to spare Marco Archer Cardoso Moreira, a Brazilian citizen sentenced to death in Indonesia for attempting to smuggle 13.7 kilograms of cocaine into the country in 2003. The request was rejected.
Since 2004, a total of 19 convicts, both locals and foreigners, were executed under the president’s watch. In 2008 alone, there were 10 executions, including the infamous 2002 Bali bomber trio, two drug dealers from Nigeria and a serial killer who murdered 42 women
Amnesty International says there are currently 120 more convicts on death row in this country, while there are around 300 Indonesian citizens facing execution abroad.
The Royati incident has raised questions about the government’s stance on capital punishment.
The House of Representatives (DPR) and several non-governmental organizations have urged the government to exert all its might to prevent them from being executed.
Last week, Yudhoyono said that the government would form a task force to deal with the cases of Indonesians abroad facing the death penalty. At the same time, however, he emphasized that Indonesia would not soften its stance on foreigners facing execution here.
This approach certainly has an air of hypocrisy about it. How can Indonesia expect other countries to grant clemency for our citizens while standing firm on the death penalty for foreign convicts in this country?
Those urging the government to save Indonesians abroad from execution should also be pushing for clemency for foreign convicts at home.
Upon learning that Royati was beheaded with a sword in Saudi Arabia, many Indonesian citizens lambasted the Saudi government as being barbaric and inhumane. In fact, these critics should reflect on Indonesia’s own method of state execution — a firing squad of 12 gunmen. In the end, whether it is by the sword, firing squad, electrocution or lethal injection, an execution is still simply state-sanctioned murder.
At its core, the death penalty is the ultimate violation of human rights, since it denies a person their right to life. Yudhoyono should take this into consideration when promoting himself as the nation’s champion of human rights.
Those in support of capital punishment argue that it is an effective deterrent. However, this argument is purely theoretical, and most countries lack the evidence to support it.
In Indonesia alone, there is ample evidence to substantiate the argument that capital punishment does not have a deterrent effect.
Ahmad Suradji, the serial killer who killed 42 women, was executed in 2008 — but that didn’t stop Verry Idham Henyansyah from going on his own killing spree, in which he murdered and mutilated a total of 11 victims, which he confessed to that very same year.
Three terrorists responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings were executed in 2008. But that obviously failed to deter terrorists from perpetrating the twin bombings in Jakarta in 2009.
At the end of the day, the drive to save the 300 Indonesians on death row abroad should transfer its momentum into abolishing the practice of the death penalty altogether. In the meantime, the only thing the people can do is watch its government fight for the lives of their countrymen abroad, while ignoring the lives of foreigners in their own backyard.
Armando Siahaan is a reporter at the Jakarta Globe and writes a weekly column about current events. Follow him @jakartajourno on Twitter or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.