ASIA/INDONESIA – Abolition of the death penalty: a civil society campaign

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Jakarta – The campaign for the abolition of the death penalty, launched by civil society and embraced by Christian Churches and organizations, is intensifying in Indonesia.
Several Indonesian civil society organizations have called on the government to remove the death penalty from the country’s legal system, noting that there is evidence that “this form of legal murder is capable of deterring people from committing crimes”. Furthermore, according to groups committed to protecting human rights, there is a high risk of an unjust sentence that could deprive even an innocent person of life. However, despite the pandemic, the Indonesian judiciary continues to impose the death penalty with evidence that is evaluated in “teleconference”: this is a system that jeopardizes the conduct of the process in a fair and equitable manner, the organizations detect. According to the data collected by the supervisory body on “Imparsial” rights on human beings, 129 inmates were sentenced to death between March 2020 and September 2021. There are currently over 350 prisoners held on death row in Indonesia, of which convicted drug traffickers account for about 60%.
The number of death sentences issued by Indonesian courts in 2020 increased by 46% from the previous year, says Amnesty International Indonesia. In fact, 117 death sentences were issued in 2020, compared to 80 in 2019, as noted in the latest report on the death penalty published on April 21. According to the NGO, 101 of the 117 death sentences were imposed in drug cases, while the other 16 were convicted of murder. The theme involves the Christian Churches in Indonesia: Father Aegidius Eko Aldianto, executive secretary of the “Justice and Peace” Commission of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference, said that “the Catholic Church has expressed regret for the increase in the number of sentences”. The Indonesian Catholic Church “has always been attentive to the respect for human dignity”, Jesuit Father Ignatius Ismartono SJ, director of “Sahabat Insan”, an Indonesian Jesuit organization that deals with migrant workers and victims of human trafficking, confirms to Fides. “I have just finished participating in a webinar on this topic, in which the official teaching of the Church on the subject of capital punishment, which is based on the absolute sacredness and inviolability of human life, was well remembered. For us, in particular, the main concern concerns the case of migrant workers sentenced to death”. The abolitionist campaign has been underway for months. As early as last June, a research on public opinion at the University of Oxford reported that although the majority of Indonesian people are in favor of capital punishment, support decreases as more is learned about exactly what “‘state murder’ means, particularly when specific circumstances are shown such as trials conducted without guarantees.
Research from the University of Oxford – conducted in 2019-20 in collaboration with “Universitas Indonesia” and the law firm “LBH Masyarakat” which provides pro bono legal services – shows that the Indonesian public is generally unaware of the death penalty. Out of over 1,500 respondents, 69% initially said they were in favor of maintaining the death penalty, although only 35% felt “strongly” in favor of the penalty; only 2% considered themselves “very well informed” and only 4% said they were “very concerned” about the matter.
As explained by Professor Carolyn Hoyle of “The Death Penalty Research Unit” of the University of Oxford, the role of religious leaders is fundamental: almost 40% of the supporters of the death penalty in fact agree to change their minds if the relevant religious leaders showed support for its abolition. The latest executions in Indonesia were carried out in July 2016, when four convicted drug traffickers, including foreign nationals, were shot. The Indonesian Criminal Code provides for the death penalty for a range of crimes such as murder, terrorism, illegal arms and drug trafficking, corruption, aggravated robbery, treason, espionage and a range of military offenses.