Death Penalty Policy Sparks Controversy Within Indonesia

By Maeswara Palupi
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150427-ID-executions-620 An Indonesian migrant worker lights candles in support of Filipina death row prisoner Mary Jane Veloso outside the presidential palace in Jakarta, April 27, 2015.

Indonesia, facing widespread international opposition to its planned execution of drug convicts, is also fielding criticism at home, where support for the policy is not unanimous.

A prominent figure with the mass Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and a Muslim lawyers group are among those asking President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to abolish the death penalty.

"In Islam, there is neither the death penalty nor a tradition of killing. Saudi Arabia is the country that imposes the death penalty. Islam in Indonesia should not be associated with Saudi Arabia and its death penalty because we are different," said NU leader Arifin Nuril, known as Gus Nuril.

Islam teaches love for humanity, and it is not reasonable for Indonesia, a country which is predominantly Muslim, to impose the death penalty, Gus Nuril said.

"For me, Islam does not tolerate the death penalty. There is nowhere in Islam to advocate for the death penalty," Gus Nuril said.

Nine convicted drug traffickers face imminent execution at Nusakambangan Prison in Central Java, as foreign governments and world figures, from Filipino boxing legend Manny Pacquiao to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, appeal for clemency and a moratorium on the death penalty.

Four Nigerians, two Australians, an Indonesian, a Filipina, and a Brazilian, could face a firing squad on Tuesday night, according to the Reuters news agency.

A different perspective

Another Indonesian Muslim leader who opposes capital punishment is Irfan Fahmi, who heads an Islamic lawyers’ group, Syarikat Bantuan Hukum Komunitas Advokat Syariah (SBH-KAS).

Many scholars and Islamic organizations support the policy, but not all Muslims do, he stated.

"We have a distinctive point of view. We argue that the death penalty is not Islamic," Irfan said in Jakarta recently.

"We urge President Joko Widodo to stop executions and abolish the death penalty in all Indonesian legislation," Irfan said.

Despite numerous legal challenges and humanitarian appeals, Jokowi and members of his cabinet have stated repeatedly that they would not waver in their determination to deter drug abuse, a growing problem in Indonesia, by condemning convicted drug smugglers to death.

Seeking popularity

As Haris Azhar, coordinator of the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (Kontras), sees it, the government is carrying out the death penalty to seek attention and popularity among certain conservative groups.

"The death penalty is only for sensation," Haris said in Jakarta on April 22.

According to Haris, most of the convicts were not accompanied by professional lawyers during the hearing process.

"Therefore, many death row inmates do not obtain justice in Indonesia," he said.

Jokowi, however, is drawing support for capital punishment from a surprising source: the Indonesian Buddhists Association (Walubi).

The organization is convinced that the death penalty is necessary for deterring drug crimes, Walubi Secretary-General Philip K. Widjaja said.

"We do not want bad people who destroy more people," he told BenarNews. "Therefore, we do not object to the death penalty.”


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