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Indonesia Plans to Execute 10, Including 2 Australians, For Drug Crimes

Indonesia intends to execute low-level mules and dealers in droves, but many say it is failing to address the issues at the heart of the country's drug problems.

by Scott Mitchell
Feb 25 2015, 11:24pm

Photo by FIRDIA LISNAWATI/AP

Indonesia revealed on Wednesday that all 10 prisoners set to face a firing squad in the coming days, including two Australians, will be considered drug criminals — in a case that shines a light on Indonesia's recent crackdown on narcotics crime and whether the death penalty is being meted out fairly in the country.

The spokesman for the Indonesian attorney general has confirmed the next round of executions will be "all narcotics cases, "according to Fairfax Media. This would mean three Indonesian murderers on death row have been taken off the list of those to be killed.

Drug traffickers — rather than murderers, terrorists, or sex criminals — are overwhelmingly the ones being put to death under Indonesia's newfound fondness for capital punishment. In January, the first round of executions under President Joko Widodo, in which six were killed, were also all narcotics criminals.

On Tuesday, in what could be their final legal recourse, Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran lost an appeal against the denial of clemency by President Widodo — who is known locally as Jokowi. The two are known for their 2005 involvement in the "Bali Nine" drug ring, which attempted to smuggle 8.3 kilograms of heroin back into Australia.

Momock Bamban Samiarso, the chief prosecutor in Bali, told local reporters he hopes the result will expedite the executions.

"What we want is the sooner the better," he said. "If (Nusa Kambangan) can be fast, we'll be fast too."

Nusa Kambangan is Indonesia's maximum-security prison island where death row inmates are put to death. Indonesian officials are busily constructing enough isolation cells for the 10 prisoners, which is the largest number of people Indonesia has ever executed at once.

"Executions for narcotic criminals were only introduced in 2003 at the recommendation of the National Narcotics Board," Ardi Manto, the lead researcher on the death penalty for Imparsial, the Indonesian human rights organization, told VICE News.

Ardi explained that the death penalty for drug traffickers in Indonesia is a fairly recent political maneuver, rather than a deeply entrenched cultural issue.

"For the first four years, the authorities would execute two, maybe three, inmates on death row per year," he said. "In 2008 they executed 10 in one year, and that was considered a lot."

There was even an unofficial moratorium on executions from 2009 to 2013, with the government not sending any of the men on death row to the firing squads.

But since the election of Jokowi, executions are being ramped up and narcotics offenders are the prime targets. The government has set 20 executions this year, and Jokowi has made it clear that no narcotics criminals will receive a presidential pardon.

"There will be no amnesty for drug dealers," he said in a January interview with CNN. "In one year, it's 18,000 people who die because of narcotics. We are not going to compromise for drug dealers."

Ardi explained the renewed enthusiasm for executions was populist, with many Indonesians viewing it a simple solution to the country's narcotics problems. But contrary to popular belief, he says, the drug problem has only increased since its introduction. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, for example, noted that the number of amphetamine production facilities found in Indonesia increased five-fold between 2010 and 2014.

Ardi says another problem is that the executions are ineffective because they disproportionately target small-time dealers or mules.

"We have seen that in many cases the inmates facing the death penalty are only the carrier or a very low distributor," he said. "You do not see the main owner of the drugs being executed."

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Ardi cites reports from February 10 about a drug cartel operating from within the very Nusa Kambangan prison complex where the upcoming executions will take place. Two inmates were accused of arranging drug trades throughout the country.

"They used cell phones to control the trade, transferring money via e-banking and using mules to deliver the drugs," said an Indonesian national narcotics police spokesperson.

The bust was the latest in a long line of drug rings discovered in the prison that had arranged deals all over Indonesia. In January 2013 three inmates were caught, running 16 drug couriers, while in 2012 seven inmates in two separate cases were busted in relation to methamphetamine trafficking.

"How come inside the jail at Nusa on a compound island," asked Ardi, "there are inmates controlling narcotics distributions across the country? How come they can act in this way for months, maybe years, but it is the mules that are the ones the authorities are rushing to execute?

"Our research is showing us that the narcotics syndicates have become joined with parts of the government apparatus; with the police; with the state authorities; with the prisons."

Several cases back up Ardi's thesis that low-level mules, particularly foreigners, are more likely to face death than drug kingpins.

Hangky Gunawan, the Indonesian owner of a meth factory in Surabaya, was arrested in 2007 and his legal case progressed at roughly the same time as Sukumaran and Chan.

Gunawan was caught with 11 kilograms of meth intended for domestic distribution; Sukumaran and Chan had picked up heroin from Thailand while they were in Bali and intended to smuggle it into Australia.

In May 2011, Indonesia's Supreme Court considered three appeals against the death sentence: case number 37 was Chan, case number 38 was Sukumaran and case number 39 was Gunawan.

The Supreme Court upheld the death penalty on appeal in the case of the two Australians. But in Gunawan's case, the judges found his death penalty violated the Indonesian constitution, which guarantees the right to life, and went against the purpose of judicial punishment, being rehabilitation.

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The campaign in Australia for the commuting of Sukumaran and Chan's death sentence has been intense.

Last week, every living Australian Prime Minister wrote open letters begging for clemency. Current Prime Minister Tony Abbott attempted to use Australia's aid during the 2004 tsunami as a bargaining chip with the Indonesian government to secure the safety of the pair.

"When Indonesia was struck by the Indian Ocean tsunami, Australia sent a billion dollars' worth of assistance," he said.

Indonesians, incredulous at Australia for invoking the deaths of as many as 225,000 of their countrymen in a natural disaster, went so far as to launch a joke fundraising campaign to pay back Australia.

So far, the pleas seem to have only strengthened Jokowi's resolve, and in a nationally televised address on Tuesday he explained his will to resist foreign pressure.

"The first thing I need to say firmly is that there shouldn't be any intervention towards the death penalty because it is our sovereign right to exercise our law," he said.

A lawyer for the Australian pair has called for calm in order to give his clients the best chance of survival. "A great concern of ours is that things just calm down. That tension is not necessary," Julian McMahon told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "It's not fair to the people involved, it's not fair to people whose lives are the balance."

McMahon harbors hope that another avenue of appeal will be found.

Sukumaran and Chan, for their part, continue to try to demonstrate that they are rehabilitated, and can do more good to combat drug use alive than dead. Both have become active in the rehabilitation program, with Chan running prayer meetings and Sukumaran setting up an artists' studio within Kerobokan prison in Bali.

A video released on Monday by Youth Against The Death Penalty, an Indonesian lobby group, sought to highlight their efforts.

Following Tuesday's dismissal at Jakarta's Administrative Appeals Court, the Australians' legal team has 14 days to lodge an appeal. It remains to be seen whether Indonesian authorities will give them that time.

Follow Scott Mitchell on Twitter: @s_mitchell