Jakarta. While the majority of the Indonesian people are in favor of death penalty, their support for it declines as they learn more about the scope of judicial killing or are shown with specific circumstances such as unfair trials, according to a public opinion research by Oxford University whose results were released on Wednesday.
There are currently more than 350 death row inmates in Indonesia, with convicted drug traffickers accounting for around 60 percent.
The research highlighted that the public lacked knowledge about the death penalty; only 2 percent considered themselves “very well informed”, and only 4 percent stated that they were “very concerned” about the issue.
It found that of 1,515 respondents, 69 percent initially favored retention of the death penalty -- although only 35 percent felt ‘strongly’ in favor of retention.
However, “when presented with realistic scenarios on the application of the death penalty, there was a dramatic decline in the public’s support for its retention,” according Professor Carolyn Hoyle of Oxford University's The Death Penalty Research Unit.
“Of those who had initially supported retention, 70% changed their minds when shown a variety of specific circumstances where the death penalty could be applied,” she said in a statement.
Up to a half of death penalty supporters agreed to change their mind under certain circumstances: the death penalty was applied unfairly (47 percent), wrongful convictions occur (46 percent), there was no deterrent effect (38 percent), or religious leaders showed support for abolition (37 percent).
The research was conducted in 2019-20 in partnership with the University of Indonesia and law firm LBH Masyarakat which provides pro bono legal services.
Initial views from the public were in contrast to those of the so-called opinion formers, a group of 40 selected respondents considered influential in shaping or responding to public opinion across Indonesia.
The research found that 67 percent of opinion formers immediately supported abolition of the death penalty, with the majority “strongly” in favor of it.
“While 33 percent of opinion leaders were in favor of retention, only half ‘strongly favored’ it,” the report says.
Both the public and opinion formers stated the same reasons for favoring abolition: the risk and possibility of wrongful conviction or execution, and a disbelief in the death penalty’s deterrent effect.
On the other hand, the main rationale for supporting the death penalty across both groups “was a belief in the punishment’s deterrent effect against serious crime, with a particular focus on drug crime”.
The research team, however, noted that such a notion remains unsubstantiated.
“There has been no nuanced research carried out to-date that proves the deterrent effect of capital punishment in relation to drug crime,” it says.
“These findings show that opinion formers in Indonesia want the death penalty to be abolished and public opinion is no barrier to abolition.”
Judicial executions were last conducted in 2016, when four convicted drug traffickers including three foreign nationals were put to death by firing squad.
One of them is Humprey Jefferson, a Nigerian citizen who was sentenced to death after police found 1.7 kilograms of heroin at his restaurant in Jakarta.
“This research got to the root of the problem that makes capital punishment no longer relevant in Indonesia,” Afif Abdul Qoyim, a lawyer for Jefferson, said in response to the Oxford University survey.
He alleged wrongful conviction against his client, steaming from "improper police investigation" when they searched Jefferson’s property in August 2003.
“Jeff was cooperative and willingly present at the scene during the search. He could have fled if he wanted,” Abdul said, calling his former client by nickname.
“The narcotics found at his property didn’t belong to him, but the judges wouldn’t take that into consideration, leading to his execution,” he said, adding that racial sentiment could have influenced the judges.
Murders and terrorism are other crimes punishable by deaths under the Indonesian criminal justice system.