INDONESIA: Death penalty and criminal defamation is not a solution, Mr. President

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is gravely dismayed by President Joko Widodo’s decision to continue the execution of death row inmates. Prior to the July 29 executions, the AHRC issued an open letter urging the President to stop the third execution, to no avail. President Widodo’s administration has so far executed 19 death row inmates, most of whom were drug dealers.

Failing to understand that the right to life is a non derogable right, the Indonesian government has ignored various input and criticism regarding the death penalty, including the statement of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein:

The increasing use of the death penalty in Indonesia is terribly worrying, and I urge the Government to immediately end this practice which is unjust and incompatible with human rights,” said Zeid. “I find it deeply disturbing that Indonesia has already executed 19 people since 2013, making it the most prolific executioner in South-East Asia.”

The High Commissioner stressed that under international law, and in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which Indonesia has ratified, in countries which have not abolished the death penalty, it may only be used for “the most serious crimes” which has been interpreted to mean only crimes involving intentional killing. Drug-related offences do not fall under this threshold of “most serious crimes”. Even then, the case has to meet stringent fair trial standards, including full transparency throughout the process.

Recently, there has been much national media coverage of drug dealer Freddy Budiman, one of the executed death row inmates, who had mentioned the involvement of high ranking police officers and military personnel in his illegal drug business. While in Nusakambangan prison in 2014, Freddy told his experience to Haris Azhar, a coordinator at the prominent Commission for the Disappearances and Victims of Violence (KontraS). Prior to Freddy’s execution by firing squad on July 29, Haris tried to phone the President’s spokesperson Mr. Johan Budi, in order to submit Freddy`s testimony to the President directly. However, Mr. Johan failed to connect the information to the President, so Haris circulated the testimony to the public and media.

The AHRC is disappointed that Haris Azhar has now been reported to the National Police’s Criminal Investigation Department (Bareskrim) and charged with criminal defamation under the Indonesian Penal Code (KUHP) and Law No. 11 of 2008 on Information and Electronic Transaction (ITE), with a maximum sentence of six years imprisonment, and penalty IDR (One Billion Rupiah). Haris should be protected, rather than persecuted, for showing good will to submit the received information to the President. The government should immediately drop all charges against Haris, and further guarantee that anyone who provides information related to the involvement of the state apparatus in drug related or other illegal activities must be protected by law. The burden of proof should not be placed on the person providing the information.

Additionally, Freddy’s testimony must be sufficiently investigated to determine any involvement of public officers. His story is just one more reason to work on the reforms of the police, BNN and military. The AHRC has previously documented several instances of police involvement in the drug trade, with even convicted drug users becoming a target of extortion in order to negotiate their sentence: AHRC-UAC-124-2015AHRC-UAC-095-2015, and AHRC-UAC-097-2015. President Widodo should therefore halt all executions, and rather focus on reforming the criminal justice system. Capital punishment will not significantly impact the effort of drug eradication in Indonesia. The only solution to this difficult problem lies in the reform of the justice system, including institutions such as the police, BNN and military.