A Denpasar District Court official shows a rejection letter for reconsideration filed by Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan on death row, at the prison in Kerobokan, Denpasar, Bali on Feb. 2, 2015. (Antara Photo/Nyoman Budhiana)

Commentary: Capital Punishment Is Un-Indonesian


FEBRUARY 10, 2015

The execution of five foreign nationals and one Indonesian last Jan. 18 attracted a wave of criticism from both domestic sources and the international community. Those executed were all sentenced for narcotics abuse.

While 140 out of the 198 nations in the world have abolished capital punishment or imposed a moratorium, Indonesia’s decision on the executions has a solid legal basis. The sentences handed down by the courts were based on the national penal code. The legal process abided by international criteria and met due process of law. Those convicted had exercised their rights up to appeals and reviews until eventually their requests for clemency were denied by Indonesia’s new president.

His reasons for denying clemency were good. Indonesia is currently faced by a wave of narcotics crimes at the cost of the lives of millions of people, especially the younger generation. Officials have disclosed that 40 people die each day because of drug abuse. As of today more than four million people have become victims of drug abuse.

The death penalty represents justice for the victims and a kind of shock therapy to crush drug trafficking by creating a deterrent factor. It has won support from groups and observers including Muslim organizations Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah. Still, the question remains: In this modern era, isn’t there a better way of providing justice?

Indonesians have been divided about the issue of capital punishment since at least 15 years ago, when as a result of the reform movement and the 1999-2002 constitutional amendment process, Article 28 B was adopted in the Constitution. This reads that “everyone has the right to live and defend one’s life and existence.” Article 28 I states that “The rights to life, freedom from torture, freedom of thought and conscience, freedom of religion, recognition as a person before the law, and the right not to be tried under a law with retrospective effect are all human rights that cannot be limited under any circumstances.”

Indonesians themselves expressed their strong opposition to President Joko Widodo’s announcement right after he took office in October that he would not grant clemency to drug convicts. The main argument against capital punishment is that the Constitution clearly stipulates that life is a basic human right that cannot be negated by any state, group or individual. There is also a moral base to the opposition: Life comes from God’s grace and only God should be able to cancel it.

Additionally, one of the main purposes of sending a person to prison in the Indonesian system is to educate, rehabilitate and provide an opportunity for the individual to change and to improve.

With capital punishment the opportunity to change is closed.

There is also no proof that the practice of capital punishment has achieved anything in reducing the incidence of the crime. According to a 2014 report of the International Narcotics Board, “Iran has executed 2,900 traffickers since the 1979 revolution, but the route to Iran is still the most heavily traversed to transport heroin from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Europe.”

We should abolish capital punishment as a contribution to enhance international cooperation and make the earth a better place to live, and work to crush crime by building a more civilized world.

We should do this not because of international pressure but because of our basic values enshrined in Pancasila, the state ideology.

We can replace capital punishment with sentences for life. We also need to improve the education of our citizens to discourage crimes such as terrorism, drug trafficking, corruption and human rights abuse, and instill the values to prevent them.

Theo L. Sambuaga is president director of BeritaSatu Media Holdings.