Rights groups reiterated calls for Indonesia to end death penalty

A year since the Indonesian government carried out the first round of executions on drug offenders, international and national right activists reiterated their calls on the government to impose a moratorium on executions.

In an open letter to Coordinating Minister for Politics, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan, international rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI) and nine rights advocacy group in Indonesia said the moratorium would be the first step towards abolishing death penalty in the country.

They also urged the administration of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to establish an independent body or mandate an existing one to review cases where people have been sentenced to death.

“With a view of commuting the death sentences or in cases where the procedures were seriously flawed, offer a retrial that fully complies with international fair trial standards and which does not resort to death penalty,” the rights advocates wrote in their letter to Luhut dated 18 January, 2015 or a year after the first round of executions.

The Attorney General office said last year they have prepared a list of 14 death row inmates – not all of them are drug convicts – who will face the firing squad this year, but they have not set a date yet for the executions. In November, Luhut said that the government has put on hold any plans for executions as they were concentrating on fixing the sluggish economy.

The government carried out executions on six drug convicts, including five foreigners in January last year and another one in late April 2015, when eight drug offenders including seven foreigners were executed in Central Java’s prison island of Nusa Kambangan. The executions resulted in a diplomatic rifts with countries whose citizens were killed, including Australia.

The third round of executions would likely include two Europeans, French man Serge Atlaoui and British grandmother 59-year-old Lindsay Sandiford, as well as a Filipino woman Mary Jane Veloso.

The latter was granted a last-minute reprieve from the firing squad in April to allow her to testify against suspects in the Philippines who allegedly duped her into being a drug mule after promising her a job overseas. Sandiford was sentenced to death in 2012 after she was caught smuggling drugs into Bali. Atlaoui lost his last-ditch appeal to avoid execution after Jakarta’s State Administrative Court rejected his appeal challenging the president’s decision to deny his clemency request.

In the wake of last year’s executions, the European Union (EU) strongly criticised Indonesia’s use of death penalty to deal with drug offenders as regrettable, but Jokowi has pledged not to relent in his war on drugs, saying that Indonesia is facing a drug emergency and the problem required “serious and urgent measures.”

Director of Brussels-based think tank EU- Asia Centre, Dr. Fraser Cameron said the EU always has a strong position against death penalty because it is one of the fundamental principles of the EU.

“Death penalty doesn’t work. That’s why many countries abolished it,” Cameron told a group of visiting Asian journalists, including The Parrot, in Brussels recently.

“There is no evidence that death penalty is a deterrent and in terms of basic human rights, it is simply unacceptable,” he said, adding that there is always the possibility  an innocent person would be executed as it has happened before in many countries.

He also said that the EU don’t overlook this matter even when forging cooperation with big economies such the United States or China and would lobby against death penalty not just with Indonesia, but also other countries that still have it in their legal system.

AI said that 140 countries are abolitionist in law or practice.

“The resumption of of executions in Indonesia have not only set Indonesia against its international obligations but also against the global trend towards abolition of the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment,” the rights advocates said in the letter.

Meanwhile, Mary Jane Veloso had some family time when her parents and two sons visited her in a Yogyakarta prison to celebrate her 31st birthday last week.

“Her family still maintains hope that Mary Jane could return home and reunite with the family,” her lawyer Agus Salim said.

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