Indonesia to Execute Drug Offenders Amid Unfair Trials Claims

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President Joko Widodo advocates the death penalty to "send a strong message to drug smugglers"

President Joko Widodo advocates the death penalty to "send a strong message to drug smugglers" (Source: Wikimedia)

The Indonesian government is set to execute more than a dozen people for drug offences, despite allegations that inmates’ confessions were induced by torture. These looming executions mark a continuation of the brutal counter-narcotic approach instigated by President Joko Widodo.

Although details of the executions have not been officially announced, an anonymous government official told the New York Times that "13 people would be executed by firing squad shortly after midnight [on] Friday [July 29]".

Due to the government’s secretive behaviour, the identities of the individuals set to be executed are unclear. However, local sources have identified Zulfiqar Ali and Michael Titus Igweh as being among the 13 – both of whom claim to have been tortured during their pre-trial detention.

Ali, a Pakistani textile worker, was convicted of possessing 300 grams of heroin in 2005. Amnesty International, in a report entitled Flawed Justice, alleges that Ali was "punched, kicked, and threatened with death unless he signed a 'confession'".

Igweh, a Nigerian man who was sentenced to death for heroin possession, also alleged torture during interrogation. Igweh, who is also expected to be executed on Friday, told an Indonesian court that he "was constantly beaten", "threatened to be shot", and that his "genitals [were] electrocuted" until he confessed, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

These impending executions, the third round held by this government, signify another morbid milestone in Indonesia’s escalating war on the drugs trade. In 2015, 14 people – mostly foreigners - were executed for drug offences, double the number executed for such offences between 2001 and 2014. President Joko Widodo, who assumed office in 2014, has spearheaded this hard-line approach on the basis that it "send[s] a strong message to drug smugglers that Indonesia is firm and serious in tackling the drug problem".

The Indonesian government justifies its brutal response to people who commit drug offences by portraying narcotics as the cause of a national emergency. Authorities claim that 4.5 million people, 1.8 per cent of the population, are addicted to illegal drugs, and that around 33 people die from drug overdoses daily. These statistics have, however, been disputed by Indonesian legal and medical experts.

Intentions aside, the process by which people are criminalised for drug offences is as ambiguous as it is dangerous. Many who face the death penalty in Indonesia - which in 2015’s executions involved inmates being tied up and shot to death with M16 rifles - do so without a fair trial, according to human rights groups.

Amnesty International describes the Indonesian justice system as being inherently flawed, resulting in inmates being "denied their right to a fair trial". Drug offenders facing the death penalty, the organisation alleges, often lack access to legal counsel, are subject to torture or coercion, and are routinely denied clemency by the government. Indeed, President Widodo has refused clemency to any drug offender facing execution, claiming in a televised speech that “the crime warrants no forgiveness”.

The implementation of capital punishment for drug offences contravenes international human rights law. United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, has denounced the death penalty in such cases as it “does not deter drug crimes, nor does it protect people from drug abuse”. Conversely, by executing people who have not had fair trials, the government is replicating some of the worst tenets of the illegal drug trade; the perpetuation of corruption and violence.

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