Indonesia, after a promising era of reform following the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998, has gone backwards in the area of executions. Eighteen prisoners, fifteen of them foreigners, including Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran (29 April 2015), have been executed in two years under the new President Widodo.
Elected in 2014 on an exciting reform and anti-corruption platform, there was a sudden unexpected shift in policy towards executions by the new administration. The drug problem, common to most countries, is the justification, with an emphasis on deterrence, despite the findings of researchers over decades. Many are calling for better public policy, less focus on criminalization and a much greater focus on rehabilitation, clinics, and health based approaches.
Indonesia’s outspoken media often bemoans widespread deficiencies including corruption in the criminal justice system, calling for essential reforms. On the last two occasions when prisoners were executed, one of nine in April 2015 (Mary Jane Veloso) and ten of fourteen in July 2016 were at the very last minute unexpectedly plucked from the line of prisoners to be shot.
It is a compounded tragedy, emphasizing the arbitrary injustices surrounding executions everywhere, that some people can be executed in such circumstances. In striking contrast to the domestic situation, Indonesia is the most successful country in the world at rescuing its own citizens from death rows in other countries, saving around 300 Indonesian prisoners in the last 5 years through diplomacy and funding lawyers to help prisoners – a remarkable and great achievement.