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

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Scores sentenced to death in Indonesia in 2016 but proposed law offers hope

Jakarta: More than 60 people were sentenced to death in Indonesia last year but proposed changes to the country's penal code could save the lives of future prisoners if they can demonstrate good behaviour.

In a sign Indonesia is slowly edging away from capital punishment, the House of Representatives is poised to pass a revised criminal code, which, a lawmaker told Fairfax Media, would "give hope" to those facing execution.

Indonesia's Law and Human Rights Minister, Yasonna Laoly, is optimistic the revised penal code will be passed mid-year. A clause would allow death sentences to be commuted to imprisonment if felons could show they had reformed.

However, it will provide little succour to the more than 215 people currently facing the firing squad – including British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford – as laws in Indonesia are not applied retrospectively.

The proposed change comes after Indonesian President Joko Widodo told Agence France-Presse last month he would consider a moratorium on the death penalty if his people agreed to it.

But he told the news agency it would be difficult to secure parliamentary backing without clear public support and cited a 2015 survey that found 85 per cent of Indonesians supported the death penalty for drug trafficking.

An Amnesty International report on death sentences and executions globally in 2016 – to be released on Tuesday – found the number of executions in Indonesia fell from 14 in 2015 to four last year.

However, there were significantly more death sentences imposed.

"At least 60 new death sentences were imposed in 2016, including 46 for drug-related offences and 14 for murder," the report says. "At least 215 were under sentence for death."

Fourteen convicted drug offenders were due to be executed on July 29 last year as part of Indonesia's so-called "war on drugs". However, 10 were given a last-minute stay of execution for reasons never properly explained by the Indonesian government. Their lives remain in limbo.

"No independent and impartial body was mandated to review existing death sentences at the end of the year," the Amnesty report says.

The report also found there were people with mental or intellectual disabilities on death row in Indonesia and there was credible evidence of people who were under 18 at the time of the crime for which they were convicted.

In December, Indonesia abstained from voting on a United Nations General Assembly resolution on a moratorium on the death penalty.

In February Attorney-General Muhammad Prasetyo said Indonesia would continue to impose the death penalty – including for drug trafficking – but executions had been put on hold while Indonesia lobbied for support to become a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

Nasir Jamil, a member of the House of Parliament's working committee on the penal code, said the committee had agreed to the clause on capital punishment.

He told Fairfax Media it was a compromise that reflected differing views within government and among academics.

"So, we give them an alternative," Mr Nasir said. "This clause gives people who are sentenced to death some hope that their sentence can be commuted to life or 20 years' imprisonment. At the moment they have no hope."

Mr Nasir said convicts would need to be able to persuade a number of people – including prosecutors – that they had reformed in order to have their sentences commuted.

Prison chiefs would not be the sole arbiter of their good behaviour, to prevent opportunities for convicts to bribe them.

Mr Nasir said he hoped the revised penal code would be passed in August but some other articles in the bill relating to defamation and insulting the President were yet to be finalised.

In 2007 the Indonesian Constitutional Court upheld the validity of the death penalty but recommended that a death-row prisoner who showed rehabilitation after 10 years have their sentence commuted to imprisonment.

Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, part of the so-called Bali nine, were executed in 2015 for drug trafficking despite their well-documented rehabilitation in jail. This included Chan becoming a pastor and Sukumaran establishing art classes in Kerobokan jail.

Their lawyer, Todung Mulya Lubis, said it remained to be seen if the revised code would be passed, given deliberations were not complete.

He said if the bill was not passed this year its future would be uncertain as 2018 would be a "political year" ahead of the 2019 presidential elections.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, Jewel Topsfield, April 11, 2017

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