JAKARTA, Indonesia – As the small Catholic population in Indonesia celebrated Easter on Sunday, April 5, the Archbishop of Jakarta criticized the country’s strict stance on the death penalty.
“The pope once said that war is a sign of the failure of humanity,” Archbishop Mgr. Ignatius Suharyo told journalists after celebrating mass on Easter Sunday. “For me, the death penalty is a failure of humanity. This is not being firm; it’s a failure.”
The statement was directed at President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who has maintained a firm stance on executing drug convicts on death row despite strong international pressure against it.
Citing estimates that state 50 Indonesians die every day from illegal drugs, Jokowi has rebuffed all calls for him to show mercy on drug convicts or impose a moratorium on the executions.
“We can argue that it’s about the law, but many countries have already removed the penalty, and yet we haven’t,” he said.
Ignatius added that the death penalty ran counter to the second pillar of Indonesia’s philosophical foundations, known as the Pancasila, on having a just and civilized humanity.
“Are people being respected? Murders are happening everywhere, and so is the death penalty. The (second Pancasila) principle is not being upheld well,” he said.
‘Not a deterrent’
The Archbishop also questioned the argument that the death penalty was necessary to fight the drug problem in Indonesia.
“When has capital punishment ever created a deterrent effect? We now have so much new knowledge being used by other countries to handle these (drug) problems.”
For instance, British businessman Richard Branson, who is a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, has written Jokowi stating that several studies show treating drugs as a health issue rather than a criminal issue “would dramatically improve Indonesia’s drugs problems, as has happened in countries like Portugal.” (READ: Virgin’s Branson appeals for clemency for Indonesia death row inmates)
Ignatius also criticized the way the death penalty was being carried out, citing as an example the transfer of two high-profile Australians to Nusakambangan prison where the executions are to take place. About 200 police officers, 50 soldiers and a water cannon were stationed outside the Bali prison as the men were transferred. (READ: Australians on Indonesia death row transferred to execution island)
“That’s not being firm; that’s sad. We can see that it’s only a show of power, where human dignity is not respected,” he said.
Among those in line for the next batch of executions is Filipino citizen Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso, a Catholic, who was sentenced in 2010 for attempting to smuggle 2.6 kilograms of heroin into Indonesia. (FAST FACTS: The case of Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso)
“As with the others (on death row), I feel very sad,” the Archbishop said when asked about Veloso. “I read the news, including about her. I don’t know the evidence presented in court, but I know she did not speak English, she did not speak Indonesian (when she was tried).”
He was referring to reports that Veloso wasn’t given a capable translator during her first trial in 2010, which was used by lawyers to seek a judicial review of her case after Jokowi rejected her clemency request. That judicial review request has been denied.
The Catholic Church’s position against the death penalty is clear. However, it has little influence in the Muslim-majority country. There are an estimated 2 million Catholics in Indonesia, or just a little over 3% of the population. – Rappler.com