Indonesia Not Alone in Death Penalty Reticence: Ministers

By Dessy Sagita 17 October 2012

Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s recent decision to overturn the death sentence handed down to a drug convict is part of a wider push away from capital punishment, ministers said on Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said that many countries are imposing lengthy prison terms rather than death sentences for serious cases, even if the death penalty is still in place, as it is in Indonesia.

He said the Indonesian government is also moving in this direction, noting his own ministry’s ongoing campaign to have the sentences of Indonesians on death row in other countries commuted on humanitarian grounds.

“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 practiced in other countries, and Indonesians are among the beneficiaries of such clemency.”

The minister’s statement follows public criticism of the president’s decision earlier this month to commute the death sentence of Deni Setia Maharwa, a convicted drug mule, to life in prison.

Politicians and anti-narcotics activists condemned the move as undermining the fight against drugs, while the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) questioned the Yudhoyono administration’s commitment to the campaign.

Marty pointed out that there had been a “sharp increase” in the number of countries abandoning the death penalty.

“Of the 193 countries in the United Nations, 140 have either phased out the death penalty or imposed a moratorium,” he said, adding that Indonesia was one of 58 countries that still had capital punishment.

No clemency for traffickers

Justice and Human Rights Minister Amir Syamsuddin, who had previously justified the clemency for Deni on the grounds that he was a drug mule and not a trafficker, on Thursday said the government would never grant clemency to traffickers or producers.

“As soon as one of these people files a request for clemency, it will be turned down immediately,” he said, adding that between 2004 and 2011, there had been 128 requests for clemency submitted to the president by drug convicts, of which 109 were rejected.

“The 19 requests that were granted included 10 for juvenile offenders facing two to four years and one was for a blind person facing 15 years, and they all received sentence cuts,” Amir said.

“Only four requests were granted for convicts sentenced to death. They included three Indonesians and one foreign national, and in all those cases they were drug couriers, not traffickers.”

He cited Deni as one of those who received clemency, saying the considerations for his sentence being commuted included the fact that he agreed to transport 3.5 kilograms of heroin to London only in order to be able to pay off a car loan and support his family.

Djoko Suyanto, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, agreed that drug mules like Deni should not be lumped in with major drug traffickers and producers like Hengky Gunawan, who it was recently revealed had his death sentence cut to 15 years in prison by the Supreme Court.

“The president does not grant clemency to traffickers, so don’t mix it up with the Supreme Court’s rulings,” he said.

Hengky, who was convicted for running a major ecstasy production and distribution ring from Surabaya, had his sentence commuted after an appeal to the Supreme Court, which argued that giving him the death sentence was a violation of his Constitutional rights.

Djoko acknowledged that the Supreme Court’s recommendations on requests for clemency were considered by the president when deciding whether to approve them.

Long lag

Amnesty International notes that at least 100 people remain on death row in Indonesia, although no executions have been carried out since 2008.

In that year, 10 people were executed — including three terrorists convicted for the 2002 Bali bombing — compared to 11 executions in the preceding decade. Ten people were also sentenced to death in 2008. Since then, however, the number of death sentences handed down has slowed to a trickle.

Attorney General Basrief Arief said the four-year break since the last execution did not mean that the death penalty had been put on hold. He said convicts could only be executed once they had exhausted all legal recourses for clemency, and this legal process accounted for delay between sentencing and convicting.

He cited the final legal avenue, a case review with the Supreme Court, as consuming the most time. It was through such a case review that Hengky, convicted in 2007, had his sentenced commuted.

“There’s no time limit for a case review to be heard,” Basrief said. “We’re currently discussing putting a limit in place of three, six or 12 months, for instance, just so that this avenue of legal recourse is not misused to buy time for the convict.”