Tuesday, 19 January 2016

An open letter to Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo
With the Indonesian Advocate General M Prasetyo announcing on Christmas Eve 2015 in Jakarta that more executions of death row convicts is slated for 2016 (http://m.thejakartapost.com/news/2015/12/23/more-drug-convicts-be-executed-next-year.html) blood curdling, bone chilling anxiety has gripped the families and near ones of the death row convicts worldwide, for among the death row convicts in Indonesia’s Kerobokan Prison in Bali there are many foreigners. Obviously they cannot look forward to the New Year. Observers often criticise that Kangaroo justice is meted out in Indonesia’s courts for drug offenders. Aspersions cast on corruption in the Indonesian Judiciary have not been cleared. News reports have emerged that terrosts incarcerated in the Kerobaken and Nusa Kambangan prisons are not only receiving visitors but the terrorists are preaching sermons.

Corrupt police officers too are incarcerated in Kerobaken. Meting death penalty to state officers would not just bespeak of human rights violations but genocide too.

It is now opportune to question the wisdom of executions. 2015 saw the execution of more than a dozen (mostly foreign) death row convicts – 14 to be precise – after lifting the moratorium on death penalty in Indonesia. In the second round of executions on 29th April 2015 the Republic of Indonesia executed two reformed prisoners who might well have been engaged in vanquishing the narcotic trade in the SE Asian archipelago if they were not executed. Another mentally unsound person – suffering from Schizophrenia was executed in a clear case of mens rea. The bitterness triggered by the executions cannot possibly mollify the families of the drug addicts and traders. Nor are they being reformed by the State. 

Worse, the executioners themselves are drug addicts as this video depicts, chillingly (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZqEzIEWzPk).

The futility of death penalty in drug offences is borne out by the lack of solution to the narcotics menace in the months after the reformed prisoners – Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan among eight others were gunned down in vicious spree of colonial vendetta. The amount of drugs seized in Indonesia in 2015 has increased by 14%. Following this vindictive killing in April 2015 martyred Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan have become the very face of the campaign against death penalty. Their ring leaders were never found nor arrested, not even by the Australian Federal Police, whose intelligence sharing was the trigger for arresting two Australians of Asian descent.

AGO Prestyo had told a newspaper back in February 2015 “The law in Indonesia is clear, it allows death sentences. Once it becomes inkracht (permanent law), [sic], well, we must execute it. It needs time [to take effect]. Drug syndicates will always find new ways to sell their products, because there's a big demand for them. In Southeast Asia, the demand for narcotics is biggest - 43 percent - in Indonesia. So long as the legislation is in place, we will carry them out.” Given that the AGO himself admits that the drug mafia will find new ways to trade in drugs, will it mean that the AGO’s pronunciations will increase the killing spree ad infinitum?  

Even if there was an Ivy League legal luminary holding the office of Advocate General instead of the present political incumbent, the onus of reforming the law lies in the legislature and needs political will Mr. President. The courts can only uphold the legal recourse.

“He is basically saying that as long as it is the law, his job will be to carry out the law. He fails to see that not all laws are 'carried' out. Lots of countries still have the Death Penalty on their books but they don't implement it- many are wiping it off the books as it makes them look better in the eyes of the world. All Indonesians, Saudi and the USA etc do, by carrying out the Death Penalty is show how backward, ignorant and vicious they are. A big sign that screams ' psychopath'” says Jo Bond an anti-death penalty activist in Sydney Australia talking to this writer. Death penalty has never served the cause of deterrence historically.

“The Executions in 2015 have been totally useless at reducing drugs in Indonesia” says Steve Rowley in Swadlincote in the United Kingdom.

Mr. President Widodo, you had claimed that nearly 18000 Indonesians die miserably and in appalling state of neglect because of drug addiction to justify the executions. It bespoke not only the state of challenge of medical interventions in the sprawling archipelago of 17408 islands, but also of turning a blind eye to corruption.

Worse, the amount of drugs (heroin, methamphetamines, cocaine, marijuana etc) seized in Indonesian airports in the few months after the executions shows that the executions were only an alibi for blood thirst and neither drug menace nor the illegal trade has stopped after the executions.

According to Press reports, drug lords transferred to the Nusa Kambangan prison (notorious for executions of condemned prisoners) houses ring leaders who continue to supply drugs to prisoners which points fingers at corruption in the guard system.

·         Trends in drug seizures and offences, narcotics crime has not decreased  Laurens Dami | on 4:37 PM August 19, 2015 Serang, Banten. A soldier suspected of dealing drugs has evaded capture by the police after an hours-long standoff during which he threatened to detonate a grenade. The dog day afternoon began much earlier, at 3 a.m. on Tuesday, when anti-narcotics officers in Serang, Banten province, assisted by six soldiers, tracked down the suspected dealer at his boarding house in the city. However, they made no attempt to try to break in and arrest him, after he claimed to have a grenade and threatened to detonate it if they tried to capture him.
·         By: Jakarta Globe | on 10:40 AM August 27, 2015 Jakarta. Police in Indonesia have arrested four Chinese nationals and seized 94 kilograms of methamphetamine and more than 100,000 ecstasy pills in the latest incident highlighting that the death penalty for drug offenses is having little deterrent effect.
·         By : Jakarta Globe | on 4:20 PM September 09, 2015 In May, a police officer in East Java was charged with trafficking 13 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine. Also in May, two prison guards were arrested in separate cases for trafficking crystal meth. In June, another prison guard from Central Jakarta’s Cipinang Penitentiary, was dismissed for allegedly aiding in the trafficking of crystal meth by Freddy, the drug kingpin, who was held at the prison awaiting his execution. Freddy was subsequently moved to Nusakambangan Prison Island, where he is reportedly still running his trafficking ring.
·         06:20 AM September 10, 2015 Jakarta Police: Drug Cases Up 14 Percent So Far This Year ... "We confiscated a total 803 drugs this year, especially crystal methamphetamine.... Jakarta Police: Drug Cases Up 14 Percent So Far This Year
·         BeritaSatu English | on 4:25 PM September 15, 2015 Category : Multimedia, Indonesia Highlights, National News, BeritaSatu English, TV Authorities Bust Meth Smuggling Attempt in Lampung Bandar Lampung Customs and Excise and the National Narcotics Agency have foiled an attempt to smuggle more than 57 kilograms of methamphetamine and arrested 15 people.
·         BeritaSatu English | on 4:50 PM October 09, 2015 Category : Multimedia, Indonesia Highlights, National News, BeritaSatu English, TV Jakarta Police Destroy Massive Drugs Haul From Raids Police have destroyed Rp 1.2 trillion of narcotics, including over 670 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine, 637,000 ecstasy pills, 18.5 kilograms of marijuana and 2.5 kilograms of ketamine. All of it was netted in raids in the capital from July to September.
·         Arnold Sianturi | on 12:33 PM October 18, 2015 Category : News, Crime Medan. Authorities in North Sumatra have seized 300 kilograms of methamphetamine believed to be destined for Jakarta and elsewhere in Java, in what marks the biggest recorded haul of the drug there to date.
·         Priska Sari Pratiwi | on 5:03 PM October 22, 2015 Category : News, Crime In July, BNN uncovered a drug ring operating out of Cipinang Penitentiary, seizing 42 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine, known locally as shabu-shabu, that had a street value of Rp 84 billion ($6.17 million)

“Globally, UNODC estimates that of total of 246 million people, or 1 out of 20 people between the ages of 15 and 64 years, used an illicit drug in 2013. That represents an increase of 3 million over the previous year but, because of the increase in the global population, illicit drug use has in fact remained stable.” according to the UN Office for Drugs and Crime: (https://www.unodc.org/documents/wdr2015/World_Drug_Report_2015.pdf).
The seizures of drugs at the various ports and airports of the world’s largest archipelago have only been increasing; so killing drug lords will not solve the problem; addressing the roots of the drug menace is not just vital, but urgent and necessary.

Corrupt customs officials are hand in glove with smugglers the world over. Solutions lie not in decriminalising laws nor in handing out death penalties (for – like Mahatma Gandhi said “an eye for an eye will leave the entire world blind”) but in rooting out the drug menace and other ills that bring bans and legislation. This is the “art of the possible” in realpolitik… Please commence reforms constructively Mr. President and you have the whole world’s goodwill and support with you …  

Sure there are no easy solutions, but getting to the root – the factors contributing to the narcotics menace is the sure fire start.

All drug traffickers as well as consumers hail from wretched socio economic backgrounds of broken homes, childhood scars of emotional, verbal and sexual abuse, lack of employment opportunities, inadequate infrastructure support, instances of school and college drop outs who all become victims and members of neighbour cliques and gangs … who for economic survival pursue criminal activities. If they have bona fide financial security, crime can be eradicated.

One solid and sure fire start to eradicating the narcotics menace is creating employment opportunities in every village in every South East Asian country. Allied infrastructure like agricultural support, educational infrastructure, medical infrastructure, will be able to spawn agriculture and food security, culture, cuisine, handicrafts – tourism, economic opportunities, health and educational benefits; thereafter social order will automatically fall in place. This conforms to ancient and modern political thought thus any suggestions of political naiveté can and ought to be summarily dismissed.  

Given that Indonesia’s record of drug smuggling and narcotics trade has not diminished after the uncalled for killings of 2015, how many people have to be executed to make Indonesia Shangri La? 

If you do want to eradicate all social evils how would the government of the Republic of Indonesia try to deal with prostitution then?  Similarly weeding out corruption calls for decreasing and sustaining societies’ consumption patterns… it lessens greed automatically.

If you do wish to punish the offenders please request the UNO and ICRC to lease land in the French administered Island of Reunion Islands or Tahiti / French Polynesia and contribute to construction of a prison there to house all drug offenders and death row convicts penalised and convicted under national law of Indonesia. Any other uninhabited Island in the Indonesian archipelago under the aegis of UN – ICRC will also serve the purpose.

Alternatively, if the much publicised prison-Island-Indonesian initiative with crocodile and shark infested moats will be created sure, please go ahead. The wild animals will not unnecessarily prey on humans on dry land. However please desist from introducing native South American fresh water species like Piranhas to the Java Sea. That is eco detrimental and will have very long term negative impact on both the native fish in the Java Sea and the introduced Fish in the long term. The seas around Surabaya are teeming with sharks and estuarine crocodiles, preventing anyone from escaping.
Life terms instead of execution is a sustainable initiative and you as President of a growth oriented, ‘progressive?’ and largest Islamic country in the world may wish to consider employment of indigenous people to guard and cook for the death row convicts. By doing so you might set a precedent for the Islamic world and also will assume the vanguard of human rights protection. It is a mutually beneficial solution and you will thus protect the human rights of convicts as well as offer sustainable employment of indigenous people with possible funding from the UN too.

India’s Cellular Jail in Port Blair Andamans too was the site of the most heinous atrocities on the political prisoners during the British Rule. But thanks to Mahatma Gandhi’s vision the concept of historical vendetta was wiped out of mainstream political thought and polity in India. It is not possible for humanity to undo historical mistakes. Today the Cellular Jail is illuminated in the nights and an enthralling but engaging and sensitive Light and Sound Show offers tribute to those who perished to give us Freedom from colonialism.

We the undersigned plead with you the Head of State of the Republic of Indonesia not to nurture historical hatred. … for firing squads are no more than an ill perceived opportunity for colonial vendetta. Mr. President you are at the crossroads of destiny … and in a very a historically distinct and unique position to usher statesman like change in the polity of Indonesia.

Please undertake the responsibility of amending the death penalty legislation and replace it with life term sentences, - if you wish - with crocodiles and Great White sharks infesting the moats of the prison island as announced by a cabinet minister. It will be a great start to the New Year and a great way to reform. The New Year gives us all a fresh chance to get it right.

The United States has succeeded in preventing terrorist attacks on US soil thanks to better intelligence inputs and actionable enforcement, not by its War on Terror. 

You will be hailed universally as the Hero who overturned History by abolishing death penalty in Indonesia. In the process you may wish to consider making the Nusakambangan prison a peace park … I will be happy to come over and plant a thousand tree saplings in honour of the legal Watershed. Since we live in the same biome, it is in the natural scheme of things and it will be an honour for me graft new saplings come over to Nusa Kambangan and plant trees, orchids, ferns lotus gardens and the like.  

We the undersigned plead with you to make peace with your country’s history, see reason, abolish death penalty, and introduce life terms instead. Please also consider converting Nusa Kambangan into a peace park with orchids and rainforest trees, wildlife rehabilitation centres etc… enlist the prison there and apply for UNESCO World Heritage status by unlocking the prison doors. 

As a well-wisher of Indonesia I do hope that the constructive suggestions in this article will be adopted by the political elite of Indonesia.

Malini Shankar
Malini Shankar is a photojournalist radio broadcaster,  author, blogger, documentary filmmaker and activist, based in Bangalore, India. 

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