President Joko Widodo was scheduled to begin a three-day visit to Australia on Saturday, but, as we are all well aware, certain domestic issues forced him to cancel the trip.
But somewhat lost in all of the news about the violent end to Friday’s protest, Jokowi’s response to it and his cancellation of his trip to Australia was an important statement from the president that should give those fighting to see the death penalty repealed in Indonesia some hope.
On the eve of his trip to Australia, Jokowi sat down for an interview with the Australian Broadcast Corporation’s Indonesia Bureau Chief Samantha Hawley to discuss several topics related to relations between the two countries.
Obviously one of the biggest matters of contention between Australia and Indonesia during Jokowi’s time in office was the execution of Australian citizens Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan in April 2015 for drug-related crimes. As Hawley noted in her question to the president, “Australia virtually begged” Indonesia not to execute the two men and so she asks Jokowi if he ever had doubts over whether the executions were wrong.
The president repeated his now standard reply to this sort of question, saying he was simply following the laws of Indonesia. Hawley then followed up with a question about the perceived barbarity of executing people by firing squad and asking Jokowi if he would ever consider changing the method of execution.
The president said that is up to the will of the people and also the legislators. But then Jokowi went much further by saying: “I think in Europe and in other countries in the past, there was the death penalty. But because the citizens demanded it, they changed it. We are very open about the options.”
Hawley then asked Jokowi if he thinks Indonesians will change their mind, to which he replied. “Yes, I don’t know when. But we want to move in that direction.”
It is not exactly a solid endorsement for abolishing of the death penalty, but it does show quite a different tone than times in the past when the president sternly defended the use of executions to fight the “drug emergency” that he says is killing the nation’s youth.
There is also reason to believe that President Joko Widodo has reconsidered his stance on the death penalty. The last round of executions in July ended with four convicts killed by firing squad while another ten who were scheduled to die were given last minute reprieves, although whether they will still be executed in the future remains unclear. Former president Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, a strong opponent of the death penalty, personally appealed to Jokowi to spare the life of Pakistani citizen Zulfiqar Ali, who Habibie said is likely innocent of the crimes he was charged with. Many belief Habibie’s appeal to have been effective in getting Jokowi to call off the executions that day.
Perhaps Habibie’s words stuck with Jokowi and he really has had a change of heart . At the very least, it should encourage people who are against the death penalty in Indonesia to keep fighting to change public support for the practice because even the president believes in a future where Indonesia does not execute people.