Death penalty prosecutions in Indonesia nearly doubled over last year, activists call for moratorium

Executions are down but death penalty prosecutions are up over the last year of President Joko Widodo’s administration. Photo: @Jokowi / Instagram
Executions are down but death penalty prosecutions are up over the last year of President Joko Widodo’s administration. Photo: @Jokowi / Instagram

Tomorrow, October 10, is World Day Against the Death Penalty, and human rights activists in Indonesia used the opportunity to highlight an alarming increase in death penalty prosecutions over the last year, a trend that runs counter to the narrative that President Joko Widodo is softening his stance on executions.

Under President Jokowi’s administration, 14 people were executed in 2014, four were executed in 2016 and none have been executed so far this year. But in contrast to the downward trend in executions, the number of cases involving the death penalty has risen sharply over the last year.

From January-June 2016 there were 26 cases in which prosecutors demanded the death penalty and, out of those, judges in 17 of the cases sentenced the defendants to be executed. But from July 2016 to September 2017, there were 45 cases in which prosecutors asked for the death penalty and 33 in which judges handed out the sentence.

“Compared to 2016, the trend of death penalty demands and sentences, based on the number of cases, nearly doubled,” said the director of the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR), Supriyadi Widodo, during a discussion in Jakarta on Sunday as quoted by CNN Indonesia.

Supriyadi said most of the death penalty cases involved drug trafficking, followed by murder cases. But he noted there was a new category of death penalty case, suspects accused of child sexual assault, a crime which became eligible for the death penalty under a new law passed by President Jokowi in 2016, which contributed to the increased numbers.

There are currently 134 people on Indonesia’s execution waiting list and the attorney general has stated recently that they are still planning on carrying them all out eventually, although no dates have been mentioned.

ICJR asked that Indonesia declare a moratorium on the death penalty while the process in which criminals can be convicted and appeal the sentence be reviewed for violations of human rights. Supriyadi noted that one of the last people executed by the government, Humphrey Jefferson “Jeff” Ejike, had been denied the ability to exercise all of his appeal options before he was killed.

“Under conditions of uncertainty and doubt regarding executions, the government should immediately conduct a moratorium to avoid the great potential for human rights violations,” he said.

Speaking at the same discussion, Ifdhal Kasim, an advisor on political, legal and human rights issues at the Presidential Staff Office, said it was unlikely the administration would declare a moratorium as the government believed that the death penalty was an effective deterrent to fight the so-called drug emergency facing the country.

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