Questions After Indonesia Executes Drug Convicts From Australia, Brazil and Nigeria

A banner Soekarno-Hatta Airport in Jakarta. Picture by

A banner at Soekarno-Hatta Airport in Jakarta which warns of death penalty for drug traffickers. Picture from

Despite international appeals and domestic criticism, Indonesia carried out the execution of eight drug convicts last week. But it didn't end the debates about the death penalty law, the ‘war on drugs’, and the possibility that some of the convicts were innocent.

Those executed were four Nigerians, two Australians, one Brazilian, and one Indonesian. A Filipino convict received a last-minute reprieve after the court learned that she could be a victim of human trafficking when her alleged recruiter surrendered in the Philippines.

A day after the execution, reports surfaced that the Indonesian convict who was executed, Zainal Abidin, could be a victim of ‘clerical blunder’ when it was revealed that his clemency appeal file has been misplaced by the Palembang District Court. He was charged for marijuana possession and initially sentenced to 18 years in jail before he was handed out a death sentence due to a misplaced appeal file.

Meanwhile, the public learned that Brazilian Rodrigo Gularte was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, yet the Indonesian Supreme Court rejected his appeal. He was not aware about his impending death until he was just minutes away from standing up in front of a firing squad. His family is campaigning for his posthumous pardon.

The number of Indonesians who prefer the giving of a life sentence prison term over the death penalty for drug-related crimes has been growing in recent years. However, according to a survey by Indo Barometer Survey Agency, the majority of Indonesians (84.1 percent) approved of the government's decision to carry out the execution of the eight convicts.

Two major Islamic organizations in the country, Nadhlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, agree that capital punishment should be applied to drug traffickers. The majority of Indonesians are Sunni Muslims.

Various reactions appeared on Twitter, and some even used the hashtag #BoycottIndonesia to express their displeasure over the executions.

But some urged critics to understand the situation of Indonesia, a country that needs to defeat the operations of global drug cartels.

Matt Hart, the guitarist from the band Arkana, was one of those who visited Indonesia and saw the extent of the drug menace:

The reason Indonesia evoke the death sentence penalty for drug smuggling is due to the sheer extent of a rapidly growing problem that is already out of hand.

Instead of neighboring countries attacking and placing judgment upon Indonesia for their stance and policies surrounding the enforcement of drugs they should be offering their council, assistance and support to tackle the real problem head on.

Gustika Jusuf Hatta, a grandchild of Mohamad Hatta, one of Indonesia's founding fathers, had mixed feelings about the execution:

As an Indonesian, I am deeply ashamed that such a primitive and barbaric practice still exists within our law. However, I feel extremely proud of the fact that we managed to exercise our sovereign right without conforming to foreign pressure.

There were also Indonesian Facebook users like Andreas Arianto Yanuar who think that the death penalty law is not an effective solution to the drug problem:

Tadi ada sedikit pembicaraan dgn tmn2 soal putusan hukuman mati utk pelanggaran hukum yg berkaitan dgn pengedaran narkoba. Semoga pemikiran berikut bisa berguna buat tmn2 juga.

Memberantas pengedaran narkoba dgn memberantas nyawa pengedarnya gak akan banyak membantu dlm menyelesaikan masalahnya. Namanya jg pengedar, distributor, di rantai industri letaknya hanya di tengah2, di antara produsen dan konsumen. Distributor gak bisa hidup klo gak ada produsen dan konsumennya. Jd utk mengatasi narkoba, kita mesti ngulik dulu gmn industrinya berputar. Dan krn minat org gak pernah hilang thd zat adiktif apapun (tmsk rokok dan alkohol), maka yg lbh efektif dan efisien dilakukan adalah meregulasi, membatasi dan memonitor peredaran dan penggunaannya dlm masyarakat supaya gak memakan korban jiwa. Kalo hanya mengkriminalisasi, masalahnya ga akan selesai sampe kapan pun, gue yakin bgt krn itu yg terus terjadi sampe sekarang

Trying to eliminate drugs by eliminating the traffickers won't solve the root problem. Traffickers, distributors are middlemen of an industry, their place is between the producers and consumers. Distributor's lifeline won't last without producer and consumer. To limit drugs, we need to understand how the industry (works). People can hardly cut their addiction to substances (including cigarettes and alcohol), this means that it makes more sense to regulate, limit, and monitor the distribution and usage (of drugs) in society; hence they can't claim more lives. By simply criminalizing it won't end the problem.

Some Indonesian legislators are currently discussing the proposal to downgrade the death penalty for drug crimes from being a primary punishment into an alternative punishment. This means that under certain circumstances, death-row inmates can receive a life sentence or reduced sentence.

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