Attorney General H.M. Prasetyo on Sunday morning. He has said the executions went safely and smoothly in Central Java and Nusa Kambangan prison. (Antara Photo/Muhammad Adimaja)

Commentary: For Indonesia, Executing Drug Dealers Is Not the Solution

JANUARY 20, 2015

A few days before being gunned down by Indonesia’s firing squad, one of the African drug convicts at Nusa Kembangan prison was visited by a Christian pastor who wanted to strengthen him ahead of his execution.

The pastor went there well-prepared, thinking that verses of the Holy Scriptures he had bookmarked for the convict would at least reduce his nervousness in facing the death penalty; and hopefully provide some kind of strength that would help him face his last days on earth with a positive state of mind.

As they looked at each other’s eyes in that prison cell, the pastor suddenly became surprised because he thought he had met the wrong person — not a person whose death was drawing near.

After being assured that this was one of the drug convicts to be gunned down shortly, the pastor stepped forward, tapped his shoulder and whispered to him: “Brother, be strong, because this is not going to be the end of your journey. There’s life after this.”

To his surprise, the African convict smiled at him and said convincingly, “Don’t worry pastor, I know it. I know I have wronged, but I know I have repented, and I know God has forgiven me, even though man won’t. Let me tell you, pastor, that because God has forgiven me, I know where I am going.”

The pastor stepped back, wiped his own tears and walked away with a feeling of relief that the convict had been forgiven.

“I had thought I wanted to wipe his tears, but what did happen was that he made me wipe my own tears,” the pastor said during a recent Sunday service in Central Jakarta.

Barely a day prior to the execution of the six drug convicts, news portal published a front-page story about four policemen having been caught in South Jakarta while consuming drugs.

The cops were caught red-handed on the day that their fellow officers were making final preparations to gun down the drug dealers.

State law gives police the authority to take the lives of the drug convicts after President Joko Widodo rejected their clemency appeals as well as similar appeals by the governments of the convicts’ countries of origin.

The president of Brazil had sent a letter to the Indonesian leader but to no avail. Brazil and the Netherlands immediately recalled their ambassadors from Jakarta in protest against the death penalty, which claimed their citizens’ lives.

But the week of the execution was also the peak of a heated public row regarding Joko’s appointment of what the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) defined as a corruption suspect whom the president wanted to appoint as chief of the country’s police force.

The police as state apparatus are far from being a respectable institution and the public knows it too well. If the law gives them the right to take people’s lives, they must become exemplary models of legal obedience in all areas. Therefore, any breach of this principle must also be punishable by death, for fairness’ sake.

Any police officer caught consuming drugs must also be sentenced to death, simply because — unlike ordinary people — the police are the exemplary models of legal obedience and in fact are law enforcers.

In other words, because they are law enforcers, punishment against them must be harsher than against ordinary people whenever they violate the law they are supposed to uphold.

Over the past few years, the police have become the target of severe public criticism for their officers’ consumption of narcotics. Even Stadium, the huge discotheque in West Jakarta, was closed down last year after a police officer consumed drugs there and died.

The mass media is full of reports about police officers using drugs and it is no secret that in cracking down on drugs trafficking, as some assume it, often the officers take the confiscated drugs for their own purposes.

But death penalty that has been imposed on the dealers so far has failed to stop the menace of narcotics trafficking because the therapy has only been repressive in nature while preventive efforts have been too weak to educate society.

Drug dealers exist because there is a large, lucrative demand in our society, meaning there are many drug users to buy their products. So killing drug dealers without eliminating consumption in society is a useless attempt that would only demonstrate our lack of comprehension of the issue.

Eliminate the demand first and there will be no supply. Because if you only eliminate the supply without eliminating the demand, there will always be suppliers to meet the demand. And the death penalty would be useless because it would be outgrown by rising demand to the extent that the purpose of creating a repentance therapy through death sentences would not become effective.

In other words, the death penalty is too small a therapy to stop the rising demand for illegal use of drugs if the demand itself is not stopped through other more effective avenues.

But one must be careful not to simplify the problem. Drug users are often people with problems who consume drugs as an escape from their problems. In drugs they trust to get a temporary solution for their problems. The trouble here is that even when the problems are settled, the addiction won’t go away.

This is an area that falls into nobody’s responsibility. There is no government institution that is in charge of solving the frustration of people who seek treatment. This tragic absence is being exacerbated by the fact that response toward drugs addiction has only been repressive rather than educative while law enforcers are ruining law enforcement image.

Many more drug dealers will be executed in the future, but their execution will not stop rising demand for narcotics in society, because the battle has only happened in the supply side, but not in the demand.

But in rejecting foreign governments’ appeals for clemency over their convicted citizens, President Joko Widodo is telling the world that next time his own requests of this kind should be rejected by the governments that deal with Indonesian convicts abroad.

From the legal perspective, the law must be upheld at any cost. But from the perspective of human rights, is it right to take the life of a convict who has repented and begged earnestly for mercy? Is there not a law that provides for annulment of a verdict because a convict has repented?

Isn’t repentance the ultimate goal of correctional disciplines? Or, shall we go ahead and kill a man who has repented and begged repeatedly for mercy? How would all these questions be properly addressed from the perspective of fairness and human rights?

Governments need to formulate a more acceptable approach to the issue because while law enforcement is necessary to discipline society, demand for justice, fairness, and protection of human rights is also rising fast in modern societies.

We need to also conduct a thorough study to determine precisely whether the death penalty is the right answer to prevent drug addiction — which is the reason drug trafficking exists.

Yes, eradicate drug trafficking we all agree, but eradicate the demand first, lest it would all be futile.

Pitan Daslani is director of the Managing the Nation Institute in Jakarta. He can be reached at