Retribution Over Rehabilitation

Words by: Sam Farringdon

Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran have been executed at the behest of the Indonesian government, on the island of Nusakambangan this morning.

Nigerian nationals, Martin Anderson, Okuwidili Oyatanze, Jamiu Owolabi Abashin, and Silvester Obiekwe Nwolise, Brazilian Rodrigo Gularte, and Indonesian Zainal Abidin have also been executed.

Filipina Mary Jo Veloso was spared at the last minute, after her alleged human trafficker surrendered to authorities hours before her scheduled execution. Her fate remains unclear, but her lawyers are hopeful for a full exoneration if she is helpful in the prosecution of her recruiter. Veloso has steadfastly maintained her innocence since being arrested in 2010.

Unfortunately, for the 8 other prisoners, there was no such reprieve. This despite numerous appeals, applications for clemency, and even unfinished judicial reviews of more than one case.

Original sentences of life imprisonment for Jamiu Owolabi Abashin, and 15 years for Zainal Abidin, were later overturned in favour of the death penalty, on appeal from state prosecutors. Rodrigo Gularte was diagnosed as schizophrenic, and while Indonesia’s criminal code forbids the prosecution of people with a mental illness, this was never brought up during his trial.

Sadly, this lack of adequate defence in court was a common thread throughout these 8 men’s trials. That most came from poor backgrounds, could not understand the language they were being prosecuted in and, in some cases, not granted an interpreter, paints a fairly ruthless picture of the Indonesian justice system. That most were offered more lenient sentences in exchange for bribes they had no hope in paying casts their sentences themselves in a most dubious light.

The stringency of Indonesian’s capital punishment laws seem to indicate a favour of retribution over rehabilitation. However, how much this hardline approach is the political mandate of President Joko Widodo is something for debate. Widodo was elected to government in 2014, amid a wave of populist campaigning to “get tough” on drug smugglers. And while his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyno, had quietly put a stop to granting the death penalty during his decade in power, Widodo was adamant: “We want to send a strong message to drug smugglers that Indonesia is firm and serious in tackling the drug problem, and one of the consequences is execution if the court sentences them to death”.

Widodo’s significant dive in approval ratings recently, due to a combination of botched appointments, weak power base and hostile opposition, has left him with very little room for leniency on a platform he’s previously been so defiant on.

As of this morning, Australia has withdrawn its ambassador to Indonesia in protest over the executions of their citizens. The response of the international community has largely been that of condemnation. Even within Indonesia itself, newspaper The Jakarta Globe has been constant in it’s scathing assessment of the death penalty, arguing it has ‘no place in Indonesian life’.

Widodo has previously gone on record as saying that he would reconsider the death penalty in Indonesia should “the Indonesian people want to change it in the future”.

All 8 prisoners executed this morning had been on death row for between 9 and 14 years. They refused blindfolds when facing the firing squad. It reportedly took 27 minutes for them to be declared dead.