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Selective death penalty

Publication Date : 22-10-2012


Pressure has lately been mounting on the government to put an end to the practice of capital punishment in Indonesia. Capturing the momentum of the annual celebration of the World Day against the Death Penalty on October 10, a coalition of human rights groups here renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty, describing it as a human rights violation that provides little in the way of deterrence.

The issue then came to the general public's attention after Law and Human Rights Minister Amir Syamsudin revealed on Oct. 16 that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had granted clemency to 19 drug convicts between 2004 and 2011. Ten are minors, one is blind, while the other eight are adults. Of the adults, five are Indonesians and the rest are foreigners.

What is controversial are the reasons behind Yudhoyono's decision to grant such clemency. While it is perfectly understandable that clemency be given to the 10 children and the blind man, the leniency shown to the five adult Indonesians and the three foreigners is legally debatable, at least within the context of the Indonesian legal system. Even stranger is that two of the five adult Indonesians who were granted clemency had not been given death sentences.

The core of the issue is the fact that Indonesia officially recognises the death penalty for heinous crimes, such as premeditated murder, terrorism, drug dealing and gross human rights violations. Data from a watchdog Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, or Kontras, reveal that as of October 9 this year, there were 148 convicts on death row for murder, drug trafficking and terrorism.

On the other hand, the state's recognition of capital punishment at home presents serious problems for Indonesia, particularly its government, as data from the Law and Human Rights Ministry shows that 197 Indonesian nationals are on death row abroad; 120 for drug-related crimes. Deputy Law and Human Rights Minister Denny Indrayana has claimed that by commuting the death sentences of some drug convicts, the Indonesian government hoped foreign governments would reciprocate and that the decision could help improve the country's reputation, especially in the eyes of countries like Saudi Arabia, China and Malaysia, where dozens of Indonesian nationals face execution.

Currently, 155 countries have abolished the death penalty or have conducted no executions in the past 10 years, while Indonesia is among 58 countries that keep the death penalty on their books.

The general public is apparently divided over the issue. Surveys in various media have found that around 75 per cent of respondents support the imposition of the death penalty. This sentiment is also shared by the Supreme Court — the country's highest judicial tribunal. Spokesman for the Supreme Court Djoko Sarwoko said: "It does not mean that Indonesia will follow the global trend. Indonesia has its own legal mechanism and it cannot simply follow others."

Despite the controversy, the death penalty, however, should not be abolished from the country’s legal system as imposition of a capital sentence does not mean that a person sentenced to death has no recourse to appeal.

Within our legal system, a person who is sentenced to death in a district court can challenge the verdict and go through a number of legal channels, including filing an appeal with the High Court and the Supreme Court, with the option of seeking a review of the case at the Supreme Court, and as a last resort the convict can ask for clemency from Yudhoyono.

There is a room for everyone, including those sentenced to death, to seek justice and fairness — even in a system which imposes capital punishment.


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