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Jokowi's Motives are Being Questioned as Chan and Sukumaran Transfer for Execution

Indonesian president Joko Widodo has been accused of selectively choosing drug death statistics that have the greatest impact to serve his political aims.
February 13, 2015, 12:07am

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On Thursday, it was announced that Indonesian officials have approved the transfer of Australian citizens Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran from Kerobokan prison to await their execution. The pair will be moved to Nusakambangan Island in Central Java, where six inmates on drug charges were executed in January.

Chan and Sukumaran were convicted of ringleading an attempt to smuggle more than eight kilograms of heroin out of Indonesia in 2005. It's uncertain when the pair will go before the firing squad but they'll be given the required 72 hours notice, as will the nine other prisoners who'll be executed with them.


Indonesian president Joko Widodo—popularly known as Jokowi — publicly defended the reasons behind his refusal to grant clemency to those on drug trafficking charges at the sixth Congress of Indonesian Muslims in Yogyakarta on Wednesday.

He stated that the country is undergoing a drug epidemic with up to 50 drug-related deaths a day and 4.5 million drug users needing rehabilitation. In his mind, executing drug offenders is a means of deterrence and this opinion is supported by the Indonesian National Narcotics Agency (BNN). But researchers claim the statistics that the government is employing are dodgy.

If the numbers are wrong, this would raise questions about the motives behind Jokowi's hardline stance on drugs. Last December he announced that all 64 death row inmates on drug-related charges would be executed. This was after a virtual moratorium on the death penalty between 2008 and 2013 under former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. These moves have been seen as a way of garnering public support at a time when his ability to take decisive actions on domestic issues has come under scrutiny.

Claudia Stoicescu, PhD candidate at Oxford University has labelled the statistics that Jokowi has been basing the nation's drug crisis on as faulty. She told VICE that the methods used by researchers in the 2008 University of Indonesia and BNN study are imprecise and the figures are based on projections.


"Significant numbers of people included in these estimates are recreational drug users who do not need intervention," she said. "Rather than actually looking up recorded drug-related deaths, the researchers simply asked a group of people how many of their friends use drugs and how many died."

According to Stoicescu the Jokowi administration has selectively chosen figures that have the greatest impact to serve their political aims. Jokowi has also failed to mention the success of existing harm reduction programs in Indonesia that have reduced HIV levels and other drug-related harms amongst people who use drugs and have prevented many drug-related deaths.

"Instilling public fear and panic about the drug crisis is also politically and publicly beneficial for Jokowi who can project, through uncompromising policy decisions related to the drug emergency, the image of a strong leader," Stoicescu added.

So is Indonesia in the grips of a drug epidemic? Professor Kate Dolan from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales said that according to the UNODC World Drug Report there's been no huge increase in drug use in Indonesia over the last few years.

If the idea is they're having an epidemic then it's wrong, so if that's the justification for capital punishment then it's a false one.

"If the idea is they're having an epidemic then it's wrong, so if that's the justification for capital punishment then it's a false one," she said.

Dolan, who's previously undertaken a study of the drug use in an Indonesian prison population, explained that the punitive approach does not act as a deterrent. And if Indonesian authorities are serious about addressing drug issues they need to implement more harm reduction measures, such as needle exchange and methadone programs.


"What we need to do is encourage people to get into treatment to get them off drugs. That way make drugs less sort after. If people could get out of heroin addiction and into treatment they would," Dolan said. "So the economic imperative of trafficking drugs would fizzle out. That's the way to target it, get rid of the demand."

Jokowi ran for president on a platform promising to make human rights a priority. So what are his political motivations for taking such a hardline now?

Paul Thomas, lecturer in Indonesian Studies at Monash University, said Jokowi was elected president of the nation in July last year and this was just after becoming governor of Jakarta in October, 2012. Due to his rapid rise to power, he doesn't have a large support base. So his unwavering stance on the death penalty is galvanising him support amongst moderate Islamic groups and a large socially conservative middle class who see execution as an effective deterrent.

"This doesn't cost him anything other than international support and his image overseas. The greater the pressure from overseas the more he seems to want to show that he is willing to ignore it and that can reflect positively in Indonesia, not amongst everyone but amongst significant groups," Thomas said.

And Jokowi's decisiveness on refusing to grant clemency to those on death row is helping to deflect from the domestic issues he's been plagued with in his short time in office. The most significant being a dispute between the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and the police. Jokowi has been viewed as being particularly indecisive on this matter, which has gained a great deal of media attention.


Thomas explained that the Corruption Eradication Commission has been successful in their investigations into corruption in high places. But the police and some of the other institutions under investigation are now pursuing criminal charges against the KPK commissioners. The public is demanding that Jokowi protect the commissioners against these charges. Whilst his own party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, are putting pressure upon him to install Commander General Budi Gunawan - a corruption suspect - as police chief.

"Jokowi's being somewhat ambivalent about giving protection to the KPK and that's where he's been getting criticism about his less than clear stance on the issue. People expect him to protect the KPK," he said.

Despite promising last week to issue a solution on these matters, Jokowi announced at the Congress of Indonesian Muslims on Wednesday that he is likely to delay his final decision.

As Chan and Sukumaran seemingly face imminent execution their lawyers still hold hope in a final plea for clemency they filed at the Jakarta administrative court on Wednesday. However this court has already rejected their previous applications for clemency.

Bali officials have already been in contact with local airport and Garuda airlines representatives to coordinate the pair's transfer as soon as possible.

Follow Paul on Twitter: @paulrgregoire