Indonesia: Corruption and death penalty a risky mix, say experts

Indonesian human rights activists have joined the chorus of those condemning a ruling by the country’s Constitutional Court, in favour of the death penalty for serious crimes.

Usman Hamid, executive director of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), also warned that capital punishment is particularly risky in Indonesia, where the courts are ridden with corruption and, at times, politicking takes precedence over thorough investigations.

Kontras, one of the country’s leading rights groups, has spearheaded the campaign to have a moratorium on executions in Indonesia.

 “The Indonesian judicial system has lots of problems with corruption and nepotism, so there is no guarantee that a sentence is objective,” Hamid, who is a lawyer by profession, told Adnkronos International (AKI).He added that capital punishment is, at times, used to put a lid over contentious issues. 

“Unfortunately, it is known that the death penalty has been used as a way to avoid further investigation into serious crimes,” he said.In this context, he mentioned the recent executions of three Christians in the restive province of Poso, in Sulawesi.

The three faced the firing squad after being singled out as the masterminds of the sectarian violence between Christains and Muslims that killed thousands in the region in 1999-2001. “They were killed and the case was closed. But in truth they were scapegoats and not the real brains,” said the expert, voicing an opinion widely held in Indonesia. Hamid also criticized the legal system of being “socially unfair”.“Those receiving capital punishment are always poor people. Not a single rich or powerful person has ever been sentenced to death. Among the latter, we can name those responsible for the crimes in East Timor or during the Suharto era. This is really a paradox,” he said.

The representative of Kontras concluded by advocating “alternative punishment, such as life in prison” instead of the death penalty.

However, Agung Yudhawiranata, director of campaigns and networking for The Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) told AKI that abolishing the death penalty will require a social and cultural shift, as well as legal.

“We have to make people understand that if the state abolishes the death penalty, it doesn’t mean that it is pro-terrorism or pro-murder,” he said.

The death penalty was a law inherited from Dutch colonial rule. In Indonesia punishment by death is applicable to murder, terrorism, betrayal of the military, and for drug traffickers. Executions are done by firing squad.

The latest debate started after the Indonesian Constitutional Court Tuesday rejected an appeal by three Australian and two Indonesian drug smugglers, currently on death row.

The five inmates, sentenced under the Criminal Code, had challenged the legality of the capital punishment, claiming that according to the country’s constitution, every human being has the right to life.

The Indonesian government has reiterated its support for the death penalty, which it believes to be “an indispensable tool in fighting terrorism.”

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