The Act of Joko

There are signs of increasing discomfort about the current wave of executions in Indonesia. Quite apart from the lack of any credible evidence that the death penalty has any impact on crime rates anywhere, the statistics on which Jokowi bases his claims that 50 Indonesians die every day from drugs are highly dubious at best, as Indonesian media have pointed out.


Prominent Indonesians, from former judges of the Constitutional Court (including its influential former Chief Justice, Jimly Asshiddiqie) to prison officials to the National Human Rights Commission chairman, have also argued that it is time to consider ending executions for good. Prominent law reform and human rights NGOs have been calling for this for years, and are starting to step up their campaigning.

The abolitionists have not achieved critical mass. But last week, Human Rights Minister Yasonna H. Laoly did say that the government should reconsider whether to proceed with executions. But the same day as Marsudi’s announcement on aid to Indonesians on death row overseas, Yasonna backed down, suggesting executions might instead simply be delayed because the government is preoccupied by the police corruption scandal.

Yasonna is right. Nobody – Indonesian or foreign – should be executed in the current highly charged political climate in Indonesia. They would be casualties of incoherent policy-making, a struggling new government and Jokowi’s image problems, their clemency applications unread.

Despite the obvious contradictions in his position, Jokowi is unlikely to be willing – or politically able – to abolish the death penalty now. However, he should immediately suspend all executions indefinitely until calmer and more measured consideration can be given to his now-incoherent policy, the arguments against the death penalty and the implications for Indonesia’s international standing.

At the very least, long stays should be given so the individual circumstances of all prisoners on death row can be properly considered in a less-pressured context. This would include their arguments for clemency and, in the case of Sukamaran and Chan, the new allegations of judicial corruption in their cases.

On death row, time means hope. For the Indonesian government to rush ahead with its plans for mass killings would be a travesty of justice.