The global decrease in the use of death penalty in 2017 should provide momentum for Indonesia to impose a moratorium on executions in 2018 as an entry point to abolish capital punishment for all crimes in the future, said Amnesty International as it publishes its annual report on the death penalty on Thursday.
The report “Death Sentences and Executions 2017” revealed that the number of executions recorded globally continued to decrease from 2016 into 2017, down from 1,032 to 993. This translates into 4 percent year-on-year decrease and a 39 percent compared with 2015, when the world saw the execution of at least 1,643 people, the highest number Amnesty International recorded since 1989.
The number of death sentences recorded also decreased by 17 percent from 3,117 in 2016 to 2,591 in 2017. In addition to the positive global developments, two more countries abolished the death penalty for all crimes in 2017, namely Guinea and Mongolia.
Meanwhile, Guatemala also declared unconstitutional articles in the Penal Code and the Anti-Narcotics Law allowing for the imposition of the death penalty, enabling Amnesty International to reclassify the country as abolitionist for ordinary crimes only.
“What does our report mean for Indonesia? Global declining trends provide an opportunity for Indonesia to review its use of death penalty. It is high time for Indonesia to impose a moratorium on all executions in 2018, as a first step in the country’s journey towards abolition. Indonesia has the capacity to do this. Other countries have shown that it is in 2017 already by taking bold steps to abolish death penalty,” Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid said.
Double standards at home and abroad
Imposing a moratorium on the implementation of the death penalty – pending its full abolition – could very practically support Indonesia’s international efforts to save the 188 Indonesians currently on death row abroad
“How can Indonesia convince to other countries to pardon its citizens facing death penalty abroad if it is still practicing the inhuman punishment within its own borders? A moratorium as a first step is the best answer for Indonesia to comply with global trends and to ease its international diplomacy,” Usman Hamid added.
The number of countries practicing executions in 2017 is 23, the same number in 2016.
Indonesia did not carry out any execution in 2017 as the review of the cases of 10 people who received a last-minute stay of execution in 2016 continued.
Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo repeatedly declared that the government had not decided to suspend the implementation of death sentences and that it was just waiting for the “right time”.
At least 47 new death sentences were imposed in Indonesia in 2017, a slight decrease compared to the 60 recorded in 2016. In 2017, 33 were imposed for drug-related offences and 14 for murder. Ten were imposed on foreign nationals. At least 262 people were under sentence of death at the end of 2017.
Fair trial violations in Indonesia
On 28 July 2017 the Indonesian Ombudsman concluded that the Attorney General had conducted the execution of Nigerian national Humphrey “Jeff” Jefferson Ejike in 2016 in violation of Indonesia’s legal procedure, because his clemency request was still pending.
Humphrey “Jeff” Jefferson Ejike was convicted of offences relating drug trafficking and was sentenced to death in 2004. He did not have access to a lawyer for five months, from the time of his arrest, during interrogation and his detention, in breach of international law as well as Indonesia’s Criminal Procedure Code.
He claimed that he was repeatedly beaten during interrogation and threatened with being shot if he refused to sign papers in which he “confessed” to possessing heroin or if he refused to implicate others.
Meanwhile, on 31 January 2017 the Supreme Court of Indonesia commuted the death sentence of Yusman Telaumbanua for murder. During the police interrogation, Yusman Telaumbanua did not have a legal counsel assisting him. He was unable to read or write and could not speak Bahasa Indonesia, the language used during the interrogation. He did not have any documents to indicate his age.
“I was tortured [by the police]. I was forced to confess. They fabricated my age. As a result, the court sentenced me to death,” Yusman Telaumbanua told Amnesty International Indonesia recently.
Yusman Telaumbanua told his most recent lawyer that while in custody he and his co-defendant were beaten and kicked on a daily basis by police officers, or by detainees ordered by the police. Although the Prosecutor sought life imprisonment for the two men, and both men asked the judges for lenient sentences, their original lawyers asked for death sentences. Based on the lawyers’ request, the Court sentenced them to
death. Neither of the men submitted an appeal to a higher court, as they did not know they had the right to do so and the lawyers representing them at the time did not inform them of this right.
Police records indicated that Yusman Telaumbanua was 19 years old when the murder was committed, but his new lawyer gathered information suggesting that he was only 16 at the time.
On 17 November 2015, at the request of the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, a group of forensic radiology experts established that Yusman Telaumbanua was then aged between 18 and 4 months and 18 years and 5 months. This triggered the review of his death sentence and eventual release from prison on 17 August 2017.
“The cases of Yusman and Jeff exposes how Indonesia’s investigation and judicial systems have many flaws. Apart from the global trends in 2017, the two cases should be enough evidence for authorities in Indonesia to impose a moratorium as a first step toward abolition and later further abolish death penalty for all crimes,” Usman Hamid said.
Not an effective way to tackle drug crimes
Indonesia’s claim that executing people convicted of drug trafficking could deter crimes is invalid – there is no evidence that the death penalty is a more effective deterrent to crime than life imprisonment. In fact, data from the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) showed that the number of drugs cases have increased in the past years, even as the government has taken a hard line by executing people convicted of drug-related crimes.
In July 2016, Indonesia executed 4 people, all of them convicted for dealing drugs. Meanwhile in December, BNN announced that the number of drugs cases increased to 807 in 2016 from 638 cases in 2015, the year when a total of 14 people executed in Nusa Kambangan Islands in Central Java.
“If executions could effectively deter crime as claimed by the government then the number of drugs related cases in 2016 should have decreased, but they unfortunately significantly increased,” stated Usman Hamid.
In what appears as a damning fact for the government, the number of drugs related cases skyrocketed to 46,537 in 2017 or 57.6 times higher than the figure recorded in 2016, 807, despite the fact that the country executed four drugs dealers in the previous year.
Global positive steps
Significant steps towards restricting the use of the death penalty were also taken in several other countries last year. In Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai endorsed the new Penal Code on 4 March 2017, which would reduce the number of crimes for which the death penalty could be imposed. Different bodies of China’s judiciary and executive adopted various new regulations during the year aimed at strengthening fair trial safeguards.
In November, Iran amended the Anti-Narcotics Law, increasing the amounts of drugs needed to trigger the imposition of a mandatory death sentence, with potential retroactive effect. During the same month, the House of Representatives of Malaysia adopted amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act, 1952, introducing some sentencing discretion in cases of people convicted of transporting drugs who are also found to have co-operated with law enforcement. On 14 December the Supreme Court of Kenya ruled that the mandatory use of the death penalty for murder was unconstitutional.
“These important developments confirmed that the world has passed a tipping point and the abolition of the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment is within reach,” Usman Hamid said.