Despite Protests, Indonesia Executes Six

Photo courtesy AFP

Despite Protests, Indonesia Executes Six
| published January 18, 2015 |

By Thursday Review staff


In Indonesia, drug trafficking can be a serious crime, and even when the punishments are appealed to the highest levels of Indonesian government, there is little latitude for leniency.

Early Sunday morning, in the wee hours past midnight, five people were executed by firing squad in a prison on Nusakambangan Island. The five people executed included citizens of Brazil, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Malawi, and Indonesia. The four foreigners were men; the Indonesian was a woman. A sixth person—a Vietnamese woman—was simultaneously executed at a different location in Indonesia.

Despite widespread international outrage over the scheduled executions, and despite attempts at interventions by various human rights groups and legal teams, the executions went on as planned. At least three countries had appealed the executions, asking for the Indonesian government to consider leniency—life in prison in exchange for execution. But in December, when the prisoners’ other legal options had run their course, Indonesian President Joko Widodo (aka Jokowi) had rejected the various requests and appeals, even the ones which came from the foreign ministries and the attorney generals of some of the other countries.

All six people executed by firing squad had been convicted of drug smuggling or drug trafficking, which has become—in Indonesia—the most politically volatile of all criminal activities. Crack-downs on the illegal drug trade became one of the central themes of Widodo’s campaign when he ran for President last year. Pressure on the government to slow the influx of illegal drugs into the country had been growing, and Widodo, after winning a close and contentious election (his opponent at the time challenged the results), wasted little time agreeing that the executions must go on as planned—if for no other reason than to send a message to other potential drug traffickers.

Despite his reputation as a reformer, Amnesty International criticized Widodo’s acquiescence in the executions and called the shootings “a retrograde step” along the path to human rights. The governments of the Netherlands and Brazil had made last ditch appeals for leniency for their nationals; Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff had sent a personal letter of appeal to Widodo. But all last minute requests for leniency were waved aside.

Indonesia has toughened its already strict anti-drug-trafficking laws. According to several web sources, Indonesia currently has about 140 inmates on death row, and international legal groups say that most of those awaiting execution have been charged with drug smuggling or drug dealing. Indonesia’s new attorney general, Muhammad Prasetyo, has said that enforcing the illegal drug laws is essential in a country where roughly 45 people die each day from drug overdoses and where drug abuse saps the economies in many towns, villages and remote areas.

According to figures available with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the FBI, Indonesia’s consumption of illicit drugs has grown steadily in recent years. By some estimates, the Indonesian market for illegal drug sales is approximately 45 percent of the Asian drug-buying market. Drugs being smuggled into Indonesia include cocaine and heroin, and also a variety of manufactured drugs, such as ecstasy and methamphetamines.

International controversy over the cases has little to do with guilt or innocence, as in all six incidents the accused were demonstrably involved with drug trafficking. Marco Cardoso Moreira, for example, was caught in 2003 at the airport for attempting to smuggle into the country nearly 30 pounds of cocaine, which he had hidden carefully inside the components of a hang-glider. Ang Kiem Soe, whose nationality is Dutch, was convicted of operating a massive assembly line operation for pills which produced—at its peak—some 15,000 illegal pills and tablets, much of it ecstasy. When Ang was arrested, he was caught with more than 8,000 pills on his property, along with huge stacks of cash from various countries.

Moreira had spent 10 years on death row awaiting execution while his case worked its way through the Indonesian courts.

But this did not stop outrage in Brazil over his execution, where President Rousseff said she was “outraged and dismayed.” Rousseff requested the recall of Brazil’s ambassador to Indonesia on Sunday. The Netherlands also recalled its ambassador to Indonesia on Sunday. The Dutch Foreign Minister called the shootings “an unacceptable denial of human dignity and integrity.”

Five of the six who were executed were being held at a high security prison on Nusakambangan Island, on Central Java.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Amnesty International: Images Show Evidence of Carnage; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; January 17, 2015.