Despite heavy criticism from the human rights activists and the international community, Indonesia executed 14 people in 2015. All had been convicted of drug-related crimes. Nearly a year after the last round of executions, Indonesia looks prepared to move forward with a fresh wave of state-sanctioned killings in the near future.
President Joko Widodo, after his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, once again defended Indonesia’s use of the death penalty, saying “Indonesia currently has an emergency, above all in drug abuse.” He also once again cited the figure that 30-50 people a day die because of drugs in Indonesia (a highly dubious statistic).
Of course, in defending the use of the death penalty against drug smugglers, President Jokowi and others in the government are making the assumption that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to others who might try to smuggle, sell or use drugs in Indonesia.
And that is a very questionable assumption. Many academics have argued that there is no evidence that the death penalty acts as a deterrent using empirical evidence. But most of that evidence is based upon homicide rates in other countries like the United States. Perhaps, in the specific case of Indonesia and drug crimes, circumstances are different enough that that data could be considered inapplicable?
But now it has been nearly a year since April 29, 2015, when the Indonesian Government, with the eyes of the whole world watching them, executed eight people for drug smuggling. If the government’s assumption about the death penalty’s deterrent power is correct, then we should have seen a significant decrease in drug use in the time that followed.
Instead, apparently just the opposite happened. According to data released by the National Narcotics Agency (BNN), Indonesia actually experienced a huge increase in drug users over the last year.
This is the point that is being argued by Matius Arif Mirdjaja, a preacher and human rights activist who was baptised by former Bali Nine member Andrew Chan (who was one of the 8 executed in April 2015) inside Bali’s Kerobokan Prison.
As Matius pointed out, according to BNN’s own data, from May to December 2015, the number of drug users jumped by over 40%.
“In fact, the numbers of drug users, according to the head of BNN, increased significantly, by 1.7 million, during the period of time from June to November 2015. In June 2015 they said there were 4.2 million users while in November 2015 there were 5.9 million,” Matthew wrote to Tribunnews on Monday.
Matius also pointed out that during that same period BNN seized 620,345 kilograms of methamphetamines, 235 kilograms of marijuana and 580,141 pills of ecstasy. As we know, there have also been plenty of major drug smuggling busts in 2016 as well.
If the government really believes that the death penalty serves as any kind of deterrent, how can they explain this radical increase in usage and the large numbers of drugs still found to be flowing into the country?
Matius said the above numbers illustrate why executions simply do not act as a deterrent to criminals – it simply has no psychological impact on them.
“Those numbers are just the tip of the iceberg, what is visible on the surface. That is, the big problem is hidden just below the surface. Does this mean we should just kill more drug smugglers? Or build more prisons?”
“They way to eradicate drugs is not to kill the dealers, but to alleviate society’s need to consume, through humanistic measures.”
The government keeps saying the drug emergency in Indonesia is getting worse, but doesn’t that just prove that the executions had no real impact? Unless the government wants to admit that it is simply killing criminals for the sake of killing them, now is the time to admit that a different solution is needed.