Why are we willing to risk killing innocent people?
According to a study released in April 2014 in the ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’, one in every 25 persons sentenced to death in the United States is innocent.
Other studies have shown that throughout the world, the majority of those sentenced to death are poor, have inadequate legal representation, and come from minority groups. For example, a black person in the American State of Washington is 3 times as likely to be sentenced to death than is a white person.
Are justice systems any better in Indonesia? And if not, why are we ready to risk killing innocent people?
In July this year, 14 people were taken to Nusa Kambangan, our "execution" island. Of the 14, 10 were foreigners. We have a population of 260 million, less than 0.5% of whom are foreigners. Yet 10 of the 14 condemnees, or 2/3 were foreigners from poor countries: Pakistan, Nigeria, India and South Africa.
Is that a coincidence, I ask myself, or are we similarly inclined to racial bias?
I represent one of those foreigners, Syed Zulfiqar Ali, from Pakistan. His case was singled out by Amnesty International as one in which due process was clearly flawed.
In 2004 Syed Zulfiqar Ali was arrested here in Indonesia on the basis of a statement from Gurdip Singh, an Indian man who had been sentenced to death for possession of 300 grams of heroin. Sindh said he’d gotten it from his neighbor Ali, but later retracted that statement, saying it had been made under duress.
When the police descended on Ali’s home in 2004, they found no drugs. Ali said he confessed only after 3 days of beating, and he later withrew that confession.
Confessions are notoriously unreliable. In the US, the ‘Innocence Project’ found that nearly one in 4 of people convicted on the basis of of a confession had confessed to a crime it was later proved they could not have committed.
Ali wasn’t allowed access to a lawyer until one month after his arrest. Yet in 2005, he was sentenced to death, with no evidence other than his retracted confession and the original retracted accusation.
Two appeals for judicial review have since been turned down. An appeal for clemency was ignored. He was one of the 10 who recently got a repreive due to a last minute temporary stay of execution. But his future is still unclear.
Since his nightmare commenced, it is clear that Ali’s health has deteriorated dramatically. Amnesty International prepared a report about how Ali required stomach surgery following the beatings he received in police custody.
Since then, he has had to have surgery for kidney damage too, also allegedly caused by the beatings. Indeed, on July 25 this year, when the police came to take Ali to "execution island," he was in hospital.
Not the solution
When our president, Joko Widodo, campaigned for office, he promised to foster respect for human rights. The right to a fair trial is a basic human right. When the defendant’s life is at stake, it is particularly important to observe international standards of impartiality, ensure no ill-treatment, provide competent legal representation, and, where necessary, translation.
I am proud to be Indonesian. But I am not proud of the decisions in recent years to put to death people who are not murderers, not evil people, but lowly drug mules.
I am not proud to think our state is willing to put people like Ali to death, following a legal process that doesn’t even meet out own legislative standards. Indonesia can do better than that.
That is why I support the CADPA campaign ‘End Crime not Life’. We need to improve our system of justice, and to implement better strategies to tackle drugs – especially as there is no evidence that the death penalty reduces drug use. According to the National Narcotics Agency, after the executions in 2015, drug users did not go down, they went up – by 40.5%.
Indonesia is sacrificing its reputation for upholding human rights in the name of a ‘solution’ to drug use that has been demonstrated to be ineffective. Let’s change that. – Rappler.com
Saut Edward Rajagukguk it the legal representative of Syed Zulfiqar Ali. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.