Judges give drug dealers life sentences, saying death penalty isn’t a deterrent and violates human rights

Given Indonesia’s harsh drug laws, the current administration’s “drug emergency” rhetoric and overwhelming popular support for executing criminals for drug-related offenses (one poll last year found that 84% of Indonesians agreed with it), it is rare to hear any Indonesian legal official speak out against the death penalty. 

Which is what makes a court decision handed down in Medan, North Sumatra, yesterday so remarkable. 

The three criminals on trial, a drug kingpin named Togiman (who was already in jail on an earlier drug conviction and allegedly controlled the operation from inside prison) and his subordinates, a married couple named Hendy and Mirawaty, had all been charged with violating numerous drug laws after the couple were caught in possession of over 21 kg of methamphetamines and 44,000 ecstasy pills. The prosecutors pushed for the death penalty, but the judges came to a different decision.

“It is decided, defendants Togiman, Hendy and Mirawati are guilty of conspiracy to deliver class 1 narcotics over five grams. We sentence the three defendants to life imprisonment,” Head Judge Erintuah Damanik said during sentencing as quoted by Okezone.

But what is really surprising is what Erintuah said to justify the life sentences. According to Merdeka, he said that the death penalty was a violation of human rights and there was no evidence that it had any deterrent effect.

In saying that, the judges were echoing what many human rights activists have been saying for years – that the use of the death penalty is inherently a violation of human rights and that there is no evidence that it has any deterrent effect. This argument has proven especially true in Indonesia, where officials have acknowledged that drug crimes have actually increased significantly since the Jokowi administration’s first two rounds of executions.

The judge’s decision is already being criticized by some in the media (with allegations that bribery might have played a role, as Togiman had been found to have bribed narcotics officers before) and the prosecutor in the case has vowed to appeal, and considering the circumstances of the case there seems to be a good chance the life sentences will be overturned by a higher court.
But we choose to believe that the judges in this case made their decision based on their sincere beliefs and that this will be seen as a sign that the Indonesian legal system is actually moving away from the death penalty.

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