Word around the diplomatic circuit is that Indonesia is gearing up for another round of wholesale executions, which it says is justified by the damage caused to its population by local and foreign drug traffickers.
And to ensure a backlog of prisoners is cleared quickly and with less “commotion” – as one of the president’s closest advisers, Luhut Pandjaitan, recently put it – than was previously the case, authorities are taking several steps, including a planned change of venue with increased capacity for the firing squad.
The executions will take place on the penal island of Nusakambangan, where prison chiefs have been told another round of executions will be conducted following what some have referred to as an “inventory of death row inmates.”Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
While no official lists have been released publicly on who will face the firing squad, speculation suggests that another 14 death row inmates will make the one-way trip to Nusakambangan.
Last year, 14 prisoners were shot dead in two rounds, upsetting foreign governments whose citizens were among the dead, including Australia, Brazil, the Netherlands, Vietnam, Malawi, and Nigeria. Convicts currently on death row include those from the United States, Malaysia, Britain, France, the Philippines, Zimbabwe, Senegal, and Nigeria.
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford, 57, is perhaps the best known death row inmate. She was convicted of smuggling almost $2.3 million worth of cocaine into Indonesia but insists she had little choice in the matter because of threats to her children.
But the biggest issue confronting the authorities is the scale of the task and how to accomplish it.
They have said the two rounds of executions conducted in January and April last year was one too many. This time a special execution site will be constructed next to Batu prison because the previous site next to Besi prison was too small.
Some Indonesian officials have issued worrying statements about state-sanctioned killings recently. Earlier this month, Indonesia’s attorney general, HM Prasetyo, said that executions would resume once the weather improves, a claim dismissed by his own office as a joke.
It is a policy which others, particularly Western countries and human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW), take seriously. It is also one that has not generated much in the way results thus far. Even Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has said that 30 to 50 Indonesians are still dying each day from illicit drug use.
Jokowi, who was hailed as a harbinger of change in Indonesia by the international community when he initially came to power in November 2014, has since shocked many with his views on some issues, with the death penalty being the most vivid example. He has even referred to the death penalty as a “positive law.”
Despite their harsh attitudes, the Indonesian authorities have rarely, if ever, prosecuted any senior organized crime figures responsible for the drug trade within the country.
To be sure, executions are not just an Indonesian problem. Globally the numbers of executions continue to rise sharply. According to Amnesty International, 1,634 people were executed worldwide last year, the highest since 1989. Though China remains the biggest executioner, the biggest increase was mainly attributed to Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan, often after what were referred to as “grossly unfair trials.”
Further executions in Indonesia will only add to that. It will also be seen as a snub for world leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has appealed to Jokowi to abolish the death penalty. Jokowi has said he had no intention of doing so and would instead step up his country’s “war on drugs.”
“HRW is seriously disappointed with the executions carried out by Joko’s government,” HRW Asia director Phelim Kine said in Jakarta recently. “It is cruel, it is irreversible.”
Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter @lukeanthonyhunt