"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Indonesia’s Push to Execute Drug Convicts Underlines Flaws in Justice System

Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo
Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Sixteen years ago, Zulfiqar Ali left his native Pakistan for Indonesia in search of a new life. Last month, that life was on the verge of ending in front of a firing squad.

Mr. Ali has been on Indonesia’s death row since 2005, after he was convicted of heroin trafficking. A government-ordered inquiry later found that he was probably innocent. Still, in July, he was one of 14 convicts, most of them foreigners, who were taken to the prison island of Nusakambangan off Java’s southern coast to be put to death.

Minutes before they were to be executed, on July 29, Mr. Ali and nine other convicts were given a reprieve, for reasons the government has yet to explain. But four were shot dead as scheduled, including a Nigerian who supporters say was framed. And Mr. Ali, like the rest who were spared, remains condemned.

More than a year after Indonesia drew international censure by putting to death 12 foreigners convicted of drug crimes, the country has resumed a war on narcotics by way of executions — and has again put a spotlight on its profoundly flawed justice system.

Critics in Indonesia and abroad say those flaws go so deep that the country should not employ the death penalty at all. Researchers have found that many condemned convicts were tortured by the police into confessing, did not receive access to lawyers or were otherwise denied fair trials.

The resumption of executions means “that the government has ignored that there is something seriously wrong with our judiciary and law enforcers,” said Robertus Robet, a lecturer and researcher at the State University of Jakarta’s sociology department. He characterized the government as “trigger-happy.”

“When you execute someone, you execute the possibility of finding out the truth,” he said.

Amnesty International has denounced “the manifestly flawed administration of justice in Indonesia that resulted in flagrant human rights violations.” Similar concerns have been raised by the United Nations and the European Union, which sent a delegation to try to persuade Indonesia to spare inmates who were condemned to die last year.

Indonesia has long had the death penalty, but its use was sporadic in the years before President Joko Widodo took office in October 2014. Declaring drug abuse a “national emergency,” Mr. Joko denied clemency appeals from 64 death row inmates who had been convicted of drug crimes, most of them foreigners, and the government set a goal of executing all of them by the end of 2015.

That did not happen, but five drug convicts were put to death in January of that year, and eight more in April. (An Indonesian was also executed for murder in January.) Among the convicts executed in April, seven of whom were foreigners, were Andrew Chan, 31, and Myuran Sukumaran, 34, Australians who were arrested in 2005 trying to smuggle heroin out of Bali, the resort island.

The men admitted their guilt, but their lawyers said the judge in the case was corrupt, having offered a lesser sentence in exchange for a bribe. Indonesia rejected appeals by the Australian government to spare them, and Australia withdrew its ambassador in protest.

Also executed in April was Rodrigo Gularte, 42, a Brazilian convicted of drug smuggling who had repeatedly been given a diagnosis of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Indonesian law forbids the execution of mentally ill convicts.

Dave McRae, a senior research fellow at the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne in Australia who has researched the use of capital punishment in Indonesia, said that the deficiencies in the justice system here could be found in most countries that still used the death penalty.

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Source: The New York Times, Joe Cochrane, August 13, 2016

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