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An outcry against Indonesia’s executions of six drug traffickers – and plans for more later this year – looks likely to fall on deaf ears
JAKARTA – In the small hours of January 18, volleys of gunshot in the still Java night marked the end for six convicted drug traffickers, and the start of a diplomatic squall for Indonesia.
The executed were five foreigners and one Indonesian. Two were women: Rani Andriani, an Indonesian, and Tran Bich Hanh, a Vietnamese. The men were Brazilian Marco Archer Cardoso Moreira, Namaona Denis from Malawi, Nigerian Daniel Enemuo and Dutch national Ang Kiem Soe.
For Moreira and Ang, the firing squad came after more than a decade on death row and after high-level appeals for clemency were rejected.
The Netherlands and Brazil withdrew their ambassadors in Jakarta after Indonesian President Joko Widodo ignored appeals from Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. That their pleas were backed up by a European Union statement of condemnation made no difference.
On January 19, Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi hinted that Jakarta did not expect fallout from the executions to last. “We will maintain communication, we are friends with anyone and we are ready to improve bilateral ties,” she said.
The executions were the first since Indonesia’s usually affable new president took office in October. Despite his election on a reformist platform, Jokowi, as he is widely known, has made it clear that ending Indonesia’s death penalty for drug traffickers is out of the question.
“Wars against drug mafia can’t be half-hearted, because drugs have ruined the lives of both the users and family of the users,” he posted on Facebook on January 18.
David McRae, senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute, believes Jokowi’s uncompromising stance is a disappointment, given that he came to office with “a blank slate” on capital punishment.
An informal moratorium on executions between 2009 and 2012 under former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono gave opponents hope of an end to the practice, but the tentative move drew the ire of the Indonesian public and of Islamic lobby groups such as the Nahdlatul Ulama.
Four prisoners were executed in 2013, and now the new administration has an apparent determination to clear out Indonesia’s death row, saying up to 20 of Indonesia’s 138 convicts facing a death sentence will be executed this year.
Local human rights groups this week appealed for a new moratorium. “We all agree that we must eradicate narcotics-related crimes, but imposing the death penalty to fight such crimes is wrong,” said Hafid Abbas, chairman of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM).
Campaigns for clemency for other foreign drugs convicts awaiting execution in Indonesia – about two-thirds of a total of 64 prisoners currently on death row for drug offences – look likely to be ignored.
Late last year Jokowi refused to countenance an appeal by Australia’s government to spare the lives of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, two Australians in jail in Bali since 2005 for heroin smuggling. Their case was raised again this week by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Also set to face the firing squad in Indonesia is British woman Lindsay Sandiford, who lost her appeal against a death sentence last year for carrying cocaine to Bali on a flight from Bangkok.
The weekend’s executions provided a distraction from troubling press headlines for Jokowi in the past fortnight after his pick as new national police chief, Budi Gunawan, saw his appointment jeopardised by bribery allegations by the national anti-corruption agency.
Gunawan’s appointment is one of several high-profile picks by Jokowi that have raised eyebrows, suggesting that he is either keen to placate some of Indonesia’s old elites with government jobs, or remains beholden to Megawati Sukarnoputri, the leader of his party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), who is seen as close to Gunawan and several of Jokowi’s other controversial nominees.
If the latter, Jokowi’s execution policy may well be being driven by some of the old guard he said he wanted to dispense with. Mcrae, who has researched the policy in depth, said that Jokowi “looks to have listened to the same hardliners within the government who pressure each successive president for more narcotics executions”.
Indri D. Saptaningrum, executive director of the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy, a Jakarta human rights group, believes that last weekend’s executions and the promise of more to come this year could in turn prove lethal to the 200 or so Indonesians on death row overseas.
“It will make it more difficult to save Indonesians facing the same fate abroad,” Indri said.