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Indonesians against the death penalty

Indonesians against the death penalty

As we learned from a recent Lowy Institute poll, 62% of Australians oppose the use of the death penalty in the case of Bali Nine members Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in Indonesia. But what do Indonesians think about the case?

While I have yet to find a similar survey of Indonesian public opinion, voices backing the death penalty are far louder than those rejecting it in mainstream and social media. The way that the issue is framed in the media – as a fitting punishment for a crime that indirectly leads to the deaths of others – leaves little room for dissenting voices.

Most reports and commentary focus on Indonesia's 'drug crisis' and the lives lost by drug abuse, using this as a justification for capital punishment. Others focus on sovereignty, taking issue with Australia's perceived attempts to intervene in Indonesia's legal system. Meanwhile, the Indonesian Council of Ulama has issued a fatwa lending moral approval to the use of the death penalty for individuals heavily involved in the drug trade. 

However, there are some vocal critics of the death penalty in Indonesia, especially among human rights groups that supported the election of President Jokowi last year. [fold]


These critics frame their objection to the death penalty in the language of human rights, arguing that execution is a violation of the basic human right to life. They have expressed disappointment in Jokowi's abandonment of his promise to uphold principles of human rights by ordering the executions in his first few months as president.


A coalition of non-governmental organisations against the death penalty has issued a statement urging President Jokowi to reconsider the upcoming round of executions. The head of one of the NGOs in the coalition, Hendardi from the Setara Institute, has commented to local media that pushing for the death penalty should not be an option for Jokowi, given his stated commitment to upholding human rights. Hendardi has further accused Jokowi of making a show of strength by carrying out the executions in order to cover the weakness of his government's performance so far in law enforcement, particularly in relation to the ongoing conflict between the Corruption Eradication Commission and the National Police.


Andreas Harsono, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, has condemned the decision to execute foreigners who have long been on death row, calling it an easier option for Jokowi than dealing with corruption and law reform, which would do more to stop the drug trade in Indonesia. He has also pointed to Jokowi's weak control in the parliament, and within his own party, as possible reasons for the president to attempt to show his strength in another way.


The National Commission on Human Rights has shown its independence by criticising the president's decision to pursue executions. Commissioner Sandrayati Moniaga has commented that the right to life cannot be reduced under any circumstances. She has further questioned the impact of executing foreign drug smugglers on disrupting drug distribution networks, as well as the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent for drug-related crimes.

Other popular figures who have spoken out against the death penalty include senior actor Roy Marten, novelist Laksmi Pamuntjak and Alissa Wahid, an activist and daughter of former president Abdurrahman Wahid. Meanwhile, social media campaigns have struggled to find a popular support base, including among Indonesian youth (see video above).

In an email interview, Haris Azhar from the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence said it is difficult for anyone to voice criticism against the death penalty in Indonesian media because it means going against popular opinion. 'We are labelled as friends of drug dealers,' he said. 'We can make a voice but the media sometimes make use of the human rights group to improve their hits in dotcoms and [are] bullied by the commentators.'


Until public opinion changes, he said, international pressure will be the main vehicle for abolition of the death penalty in Indonesia.

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