INDONESIAN President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo says he is open to a review of the death penalty, if most people in his Muslim-majority nation support it.
During an interview with AFP on Monday, Jokowi was asked again about the possibility of re-instating a moratorium on capital punishment. He said, “Why not? But I must ask my people. If my people say OK, they say yes, I will start to prepare.”
Importantly, however, the president also cited a private opinion poll from 2015, which showed 85 percent of Indonesians support the death penalty for drug traffickers.
The comments came as US citizen and convicted drug trafficker Frank Amado was moved to Indonesia’s notorious Nusa Kambangan prison earlier this month, where recent executions have taken place, sparking speculation of more imminent executions. Six other foreign nationals may be with him, reports Indonesian media.
In Indonesia, death-sentenced inmates are executed by firing squad and only learns of their impending execution 72 hours in advance.
This week, a coalition of Indonesian human rights groups announced their planned push for support from the United Nations Human Rights Council to abolish the death penalty. They will do so at Indonesia’s forthcoming hearing at the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva in May.
The Jakarta Post reports that the NGOs’ submission highlights the problem of “government’s persistence in implementing capital punishment when the country’s judicial system is still marred with rampant corruption.”
Under former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia had a four-year unofficial moratorium which ended in March 2013. Another former President, BJ Habibie, last year denounced Indonesia’s continued use of the death penalty.
Ahead of a visit to Australia in November 2016, Jokowi said Indonesians may change their mind on executions just like Europeans had done.
“We are very open to options … I don’t know when but we want to move towards that direction,” said the president.
But enthusiastic use of capital punishment has been a hallmark of Jokowi’s presidency despite widespread international criticism.
Eighteen people have been killed for drug trafficking since his election in mid-2014, 15 of whom were foreign citizens. Jokowi has previously justified capital punishment on the basis that drug traffickers had “destroyed the future of the nation.”
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In May 2016, Jokowi introduced new laws that punish paedophilia with the death penalty and chemical castration, in response to public outcry after a schoolgirl was brutally gang-raped.
It is unclear whether a majority of Indonesian citizens support the death penalty, but capital punishment has many high-profile advocates.
Jokowi’s current vice president Jusuf Kalla, who was also vice president under Susilo between 2004 and 2009, said drug traffickers “loved” the former president for his leniency. Last year, former Chief Justice Jimly Asshiddiqie said public officials convicted of graft should be sentenced to death.
Just this week, Jakarta Deputy Governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat told reporters that tougher policing on drug trafficking was required and that authorities need to execute drug criminals to “create a deterrent effect.”
Djarot is the running mate of Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, who was formally deputy when Jokowi was governor of the capital.
Jokowi has previously declared drug trafficking a “national emergency” for Indonesia. In fact, public health experts estimate that only 0.5 percent of the country’s 250 million people “experiment” with drugs.
Neighbouring Philippines recently re-instated the death penalty, despite being one of the first countries to abolish capital punishment in the region back in 2014.
Ironically, the sentencing of Filipina drug mule Mary Jane Veloso to the death penalty after being arrested with 4.5 kilograms of heroin in 2010 has been a point of diplomatic tension between the two nations. She remains in prison in Indonesia.
Jokowi’s administration has remained obstinate in its refusal to grant clemency to foreigners on drug convictions.
Yet hundreds of Indonesian citizens remain on death row overseas and Jakarta works hard to have them granted clemency. Between 2011 and 2015, 68 Indonesian citizens were freed from death row in Saudi Arabia alone.
Herlambang P Wiratraman of SEPAHAM Indonesia (Indonesian Lecturer Association for Human Rights) in wrote in 2015 that “Indonesia’s penchant for executions will weaken the nation’s standing in seeking reprieve for 334 Indonesians on death row in other countries.”