As Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo faces a diplomatic row over pending executions of foreign drug felons, an unlikely ally is backing the government’s capital punishment policy.
That person is Chep Hernawan, a wealthy businessman and ardent supporter of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, which Indonesia has banned.
In his opinion, such people deserve to die for their crimes.
"They die for drugs, are ready to be shot dead, ready to be killed for the sake of drugs. They are involved in drug cases, for the sake of hell,” Chep said Feb. 24 at Wijayapura port in Cilacap, Central Java, Republika reported.
Chep spoke to reporters on his way to visit jailed Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir. Bashir is the leader of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the terrorist group that carried out the 2002 Bali bombings. He has declared his allegiance to IS and, from his prison cell last March, Bashir anointed Chep “president” of IS in Indonesia.
‘President’ of IS
Chep has renounced the title, but he openly supports IS and calls for Indonesians to undertake jihad abroad.
“Why are we not prepared for heaven’s sake? We can be a barometer. They [drug convicts] and their families are ready to be shot to death for the sake of drugs,” he said, suggesting that dying for jihad was more worthy than dying for illegal drugs.
A native of Cianjur, West Java, Chep’s business empire encompasses sand mining, property development and plastics recycling.
In 2008, when three of the Bali bombers were executed, Chep offered a plot of land for their burial – though it was not used. In 2011, he hosted and helped pay for a “world mujahidin gathering” in West Java. The event drew some 562 trained or combat-hardened jihadists from across the Middle East as well as Malaysia, the Philippines, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Indonesians should pursue jihad not at home but in Syria and Iraq, Chep says.
“If you want to go, I will pay your expenses," Republika quoted him as saying.
Jokowi’s government is facing its first diplomatic crisis over its intention to enforce the death penalty against foreign drug convicts. Foreigners on death row in Indonesia include two Australians, a Brazilian and a Frenchman.
Tensions between Indonesia and its neighbor Australia are high. The president has warned Canberra and other foreign governments not to meddle with Indonesia’s internal affairs.
On Friday (Feb. 27), Jokowi publically challenged a statement made by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who had said that the Indonesian president was “carefully considering his position” over the case of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the two Australians condemned to die.
"Our stance is clear. Our laws cannot be interfered [with]," the Kontan news website quoted Jokowi as saying, AFP reported.
Meanwhile, Indonesia was going ahead with the executions, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on Feb. 26. The condemned were to be lined up together and shot in an open field along with other drug felons. Isolation cells for them were to be ready by Saturday on Nusakambangan, the penal island where the executions would occur, according to the Morning Herald.
Jokowi also has taken a tough stance on illegal drug use.
The number of drug users in Indonesia had reached 4.5 million, he said Jan. 20 when speaking at the inauguration of the Mujahidin Grand Mosque in Pontianak, West Kalimantan.
“Every year, the number of people who die because of illegal drug consumption continues to grow, [with current levels at] 18,000," he said.
During a lecture last year at Gadjah Mada University (UGM) in Yogyakarta, the president added, “these kinds of crimes deserve no forgiveness.”
The diplomatic crisis over drug convicts on death row began in January, when Indonesia executed six people on drug-related charges. These included citizens of Nigeria, the Netherlands, Brazil and Vietnam.
Outraged over the execution of citizen Marco Archer Cardoso Moreira, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff then recalled her country’s ambassador to Indonesia. In the build-up to the second round of executions, she has refused credentials for the Indonesian ambassador to Brazil because of Indonesia’s policy of capital punishment for drug offenders. This prompted Jokowi to recall his envoy to Brasilia, the Jakarta Post reported.
“After I heard the news, I immediately asked our ambassador to pull back to Indonesia. [We will discuss] his return to Brazil at a later time," Antara New quoted Jokowi as saying Feb. 24.
Its capital punishment policy was part of Indonesia’s sovereignty, he asserted.
"It is a matter of honor for the country, the honor of the nation," Jokowi said.
Is it effective?
But some commentators in Indonesia view the government’s tough stance on drug convictions as problematic.
Tantowi Yahya, a member the Indonesian House of Representatives (DPR), opposes the policy.
“We must be sensitive about this issue, whether related to humanitarian or political matters. Do not let the prisoner be executed as a political commodity,” Kompas quoted Tantowi as telling parliament on Feb. 24.
Human rights groups, for their part, question whether the death penalty is both effective and the right way to punish offenders.
"The execution policy should be removed in Indonesia. The deterrent effect will not be felt when the offender has been sentenced to death," Portal Tempo quoted Natalius Pigai, a member of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), as saying.
"The agenda of the death penalty [is] counterproductive to Jokowi’s spirit of encouraging Human Rights and the mechanism of truth commissions in Indonesia," said Puri Kencana Putri, chairman of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), speaking at Kontras’s office in Jakarta on February 23, BeritaSatu reported.