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Nice guy Jokowi a death penalty strong man

  • 04 February 2015

Any faint hopes for a reprieve for the Australians on death row in Indonesia were silently extinguished last week during a CNN interview with President Jokowi to mark his first 100 days in office.

Asked by Christiane Amanpour whether his uncompromising stand on the death penalty for drug trafficking meant there ‘would be no relief for the Australians’, the President simply nodded his head emphatically in silent agreement. 

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran will now be executed by firing squad in the near future. An unlucky diplomat from Australia’s embassy in Jakarta will be present to witness them shot through the heart at midnight.

This latest act of killing will be carried out on a prison island off Central Java called Nusakembangan which translates Island of Flowers, a grim joke given the place’s history as a penal settlement stretching back to Dutch colonial times. The governor of Bali, where the doomed Australians are currently held, has said he does not want them executed in Bali to avoid upsetting the island’s harmony.  The one million Australian tourists who visit Bali annually are a staple ingredient of Bali’s economy. 

Indonesia has had the death penalty on its books since Independence, but has not employed it often. Capital punishment was not practised during Indonesia’s first 24 years and a de facto moratorium has been intermittently in place in recent years. The period 2009-2014 saw only four executions and there were none last year. 

Even allowing for differences in population numbers, this rate is far lower than in the US and, if I am not mistaken, compares favourably with neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia where the death penalty for drug trafficking is mandatory. 

Leaving aside Indonesia’s dismal record of state sponsored extra-judicial killings, these figures suggest that Indonesia has been less than enthusiastic, even ambivalent, about the practice of judicial executions. A review of the policy’s constitutionality in 2007 found in favour but three judges dissented and the judgement stated that prisoners who had been on death row for 10 years and had reformed should have their sentences commuted to imprisonment. 

There has also been spirited public debate since the resumption of the death penalty last month. Haris Azhar, head of the local human rights organisation Kontras, says ‘The death penalty has no place in a modern legal system’. He has publicly debated the issue with proponents, arguing that the death penalty does not work as a deterrent to the