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Shift in attitude against death penalty in Indonesia

Date

Tom Allard HERALD CORRESPONDENT

JAKARTA: Indonesia has not executed anyone for almost two years, a freeze that points to a new reluctance by authorities to dispense the ultimate punishment.

The hiatus in sending people before the firing squad, Indonesia's only method of execution, follows a flurry of state sanctioned killings in 2008, when 10 people were put to death.

It also comes as the three Australians on death row for drug smuggling - Scott Rush, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan - launch their final legal appeals this year.

While repeated queries to various government agencies failed to elicit a reason for the apparent moratorium, Papang Hidayat, from the human rights advocacy group Kontras, has an explanation.

''We think it is due to the criticism they received after what happened in 2008,'' Mr Papang said. ''We heard [President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono] received criticism from the European Union which was relayed confidentially. There was other criticism too from at home and abroad.''

There are more than 100 people on death row, with roughly half of those convicted of drug trafficking.

The last executions, of the Bali bombers Amrozi, Mukhlas and Imam Samudra, took place in November 2008.

The apparent freeze is the more surprising because the Attorney-General, Hendarman Supandji, was granted the power by the Supreme Court to speed up executions last year after he complained of legal obstructionism blocking his department.

But, ever since, executions have been discussed by the Attorney-General's office, but mysteriously never carried out. While few anticipate the moratorium will last forever, or that Indonesia will abolish the death sentence, there has been a discernible shift in attitude.

Todung Mulya Lubis, one of Indonesia's foremost lawyers and a counsel for Sukumaran and Chan, began advocating against the death penalty more than 30 years ago. ''When I started my campaign in 1979, I was accused of being against pancasila [Indonesia's founding ideology] and pro-communist.

''Then they accused me of being anti-Islamic. In the mosques they called me kafir [a disbeliever]. It was very emotional. ''Now people can talk about it openly.''

Perhaps the best explanation for the new reluctance to carry out executions lies with a seminal ruling by the Constitutional Court in 2008. While six of the nine members of the court found the death penalty was legal under Indonesia's founding constitution, it was instructive that three thought it was not.

Moreover, the majority ruling advocated tight limits on when the death penalty can be used, saying it should be handed out only in exceptional circumstances. Even so, Islamic groups remain wedded to the death penalty.

''The goal of giving the death sentence is not solely for the criminal but for the others to take lessons from what has been done,'' said Slamet Effendy Yusuf, a member of the executive board of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia's largest Islamic organisation with 40 million members.

''If somebody carries drugs into Indonesia, for instance, the impact of his or her action may be in the death of other persons.''

But numerous studies have shown the death penalty does not work as a deterrent, a point made by Scott Rush's lawyers in his judicial review.

Lawyers for all three Australians on death row have cited the constitutional court ruling in their clients' defence.

HuffPost Australia

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