Will Indonesia kill off the death penalty?

November 7, 2012 http://www.chinapost.com.tw

Is Indonesia on the cusp of abolishing the death penalty, which is used as a sentencing tool against terrorism, premeditated murder and drug trafficking?

Although the death penalty is rarely handed down, it is still the focus of human rights groups, which want the government to end capital punishment because of its rights violation and its supposed ineffective deterrence of crime.

Two recent developments have prompted the question.

First, it has emerged that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been quietly using his constitutional prerogatives to grant clemency to convicts, including those on death row, since 2004 after winning the election.

The clemency has reduced the sentences of 19 drug offenders, including four on death row, whose lives have been spared from certain death by firing squad.

Three of the condemned men were Indonesians, while the fourth was a foreigner. Their sentences were commuted to life in prison.

Two of the Indonesians were former civil servant Deni Setia Maharwa and his accomplice Meirika Pranola, who were caught with a third accomplice at the Jakarta International Airport before a flight to London in 2000. They were found to be members of a syndicate trying to smuggle heroin and cocaine.

Deni was granted clemency in January this year, and Meirika in November last year, on humanitarian grounds, as they were deemed couriers, not traffickers. It was not revealed when the third accomplice received his clemency.

Earlier last month, a three-judge panel of the Supreme Court overturned the death sentence of drug lord Hengky Gunawan, converting it to a prison term of 15 years.

Hengky was convicted in 2007 of running a major Ecstasy production and distribution ring from Surabaya, in East Java.

The judges said that the death sentence in Hengky’s case was antithetical to the Constitution, which enshrines a right to life.

Second, Cabinet members have come out not only to defend the granting of clemency to drug offenders on death row, but also to link it to advocacy for Indonesians in foreign prisons.

In separate remarks, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa and Deputy Justice Minister Denny Indrayana said that the decision to commute the death sentence handed down to drug convicts was part of a wider push to move away from capital punishment.

Marty said recently that globally, more countries had stopped using the death penalty, although it remained on their statutes, as it does in Indonesia.

“The policy of commuting a death sentence for a drug crime is not something that happens just in Indonesia,” he said.

“This policy is also practised in other countries, and Indonesians are among the beneficiaries of such clemency.”

Even as they spoke, Malaysia announced that it was considering abolishing the death penalty for drug offences.

For the first time, Denny admitted that the main reason behind this softening on capital punishment has been the need to free Indonesian migrant workers who are on death row overseas.

What prompted this was the public outrage over the execution of an Indonesian maid, Ruyati Sapubi, 54, who was beheaded for murdering her abusive employer in Saudi Arabia in June last year.

Since then, the Indonesian government has set up a fund to pay “blood money” to Saudi families to seek the freedom of its citizens.

The Deputy Justice Minister told Kompas on Oct. 23 that there were a total of 298 Indonesians on death row in other countries as of July last year.

Through its advocacy efforts, Indonesia managed to persuade foreign governments to commute the death sentences of 100 of them, including 44 drug offenders on death row.

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