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This week in Jakarta: Executions and inaugurations

This week in Jakarta: Executions and inaugurations
Published 1 May 2015 

Jakarta came under the global spotlight for all the wrong reasons this week due to the executions of one Indonesian national and seven foreigners, including two Australians, on drug trafficking charges. The executions have tainted new president Jokowi's image as a defender of human rights, and have damaged Indonesia's foreign relations, not least by prompting the withdrawal of the Australian ambassador.

This week's executions were the second round so far this year, and there appears to be no sign of President Jokowi showing mercy for the remaining 60 or so convicts still on death row. International pressure has had no effect on Jokowi's resolve, and seems to have only hardened the opinion of the Indonesian public, with the local media framing the issue as a matter of state sovereignty. Pop singer Anggun Cipta Sasmi faced a backlash from fans for joining protests in France and speaking out against the death penalty on her Twitter account, particularly when a comment calling the death penalty 'backward' was misconstrued as a comment on Indonesia as a nation. Meanwhile, human rights groups and anti-death penalty activists have struggled to make their voices heard in the face of criticism of siding with drug dealers or lacking national pride.

One death row convict did appear to attract more sympathy from the Indonesian press and public than the others. Filipina Mary Jane Veloso was also due to be executed in the early hours on Wednesday, but was spared at the last minute due to the emergence of new evidence regarding her case in the Philippines. Veloso claims that a family friend convinced her to take a job as a domestic worker in Indonesia before giving her a new bag to take on the trip — which turned out to have heroin sewn into the lining. The family friend turned herself in to police in Manila on Tuesday morning, and by Tuesday night, Indonesia had responded to a call by Philippine President Benigno Aquino to allow Veloso to live in order to testify against the suspected perpetrator.

Since last week, a video had circulated online of Veloso's two young sons making a plea to Jokowi's son to tell his father not to execute their mother, drawing sympathy from Indonesian netizens. [fold]

On Tuesday, a candlelit vigil was held outside the State Palace in Jakarta calling on Jokowi to 'Save Mary Jane'. Jokowi has confirmed that Veloso's execution has only been postponed, not cancelled. Aside from lingering questions about her innocence, it could be that Veloso's case resonates more deeply with the Indonesian public because of similarities with those of Indonesians on death row abroad. Last month, two Indonesian domestic workers were executed in two days in Saudi Arabia despite protests from the Indonesian government. Migrant Care, an organisation that works to protect the rights of Indonesian migrant workers, has complained that the executions in Indonesia have made its advocacy efforts more difficult.

Another issue the executions have distracted attention from this week is the inauguration of Budi Gunawan as deputy chief of the National Police. Jokowi's nomination of Budi to become police chief earlier in the year drew widespread criticism because of unresolved allegations leveled against him by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). He was also known to be Megawati's pick, having served as her aide during her time as president. In order to avoid choosing sides, Jokowi opted to stay out of the conflict between the KPK and the police, which escalated into a situation of near collapse for the well-trusted anti-corruption body. It was around this time that the first round of executions took place.

In this context, it is surprising to say the least that Budi's name has again emerged at the top of the force, as the new deputy police chief. He was quietly inaugurated last Wednesday while Jakarta was busy hosting two international events: the Asia-Africa Conference and the World Economic Forum on East Asia. The new police chief, Badrodin Haiti, said he did not want to bother the president with the matter. Civil society groups were quick to criticise the closed-door appointment, but in the face of this week's executions, the controversy has yet to reach the level of media saturation it faced back in January.

Photo by Flickr user Indigo Skies.

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