The Death Penalty: An Issue Between the ‘Civilized’ West and a ‘Barbaric’ Indonesia?
First of all, let me say this clearly: I am Indonesian and I am against the death penalty. But I am also sick of how the debate has turned ugly and has been blown out of proportion.
I believe that the death penalty is a display of arrogance from the authorities; it provides no way out if there is ever any mistake in the judicial process.
Even in countries where the legal system is more effective and transparent than in Indonesia, it is no secret that rich people can escape heavy punishment or even any punishment at all, because they can hire brilliant lawyers. Thus, surely the rich and powerful can more easily escape the death penalty.
Moreover, many researchers have shown that the death penalty does not deter crime compared to other forms of punishment. So, why do we have to sacrifice people’s lives?
However, Indonesians who support the capital punishment for drug offences believe that this kind of punishment can reduce crime. As President Joko Widodo has emphasized several times, 50 die every day across Indonesia due to illicit drug use. The death punishment is thus believed to be a way of reducing this impact, and to prevent young people from getting involved in the use and misuse of drugs. Joko argues: Isn’t it better to kill a few, to save more lives?
Indeed, this issue seems to be the main difference between the majority of those who are for and those who are against capital punishment.
Indonesian singer Anggun C. Sasmi, in opposing capital punishment, argues that the death penalty does nothing to prevent crimes. Her claims were hugely disputed by the wife of an ex-drug addict, who reminded the France-based pop star of the danger of drugs.
So, which argument is more valid: those made by people who are against or for the death penalty? To determine this, we should see the data, analyze it, and/or compare academic articles on the relation between the death penalty and its effectiveness on the war on drugs.
Differences of opinion, my friends, should be resolved via further study and common sense. However, in many cases, the opposite happens.
After the execution of eight drug inmates last week (only Mary Jane Veloso was spared), an article in The Guardian by Australian journalist Gay Alcorn entitled “Indonesia Murdered Eight People: The Time for Being Polite Is Over” argues that the West has been too polite to Indonesia in trying to prevent the death penalty. Reminding the reader that Indonesia is full of corruption and political posturing, Alcorn insists that after Indonesia carried out the death penalty, the West shouldn’t hold back from criticizing or being tough on Indonesia.
She writes: “We do not need to spare feelings for fear of being seen as arrogant Westerners… Nothing excuses what Indonesia has done.”
This nonetheless implies an act of arrogance or ignorance, as if only Westerners are against this death penalty, while many human rights activists in Indonesia have been against it and have been trying to lobby Joko to abolish the controversial policy.
A majority of those who were executed are not considered to be “Westerners” (amongst them, there are Nigerians, Brazilian and Indonesians). So, please do not “reduce” the issue to be just about the West vs. Indonesia.
Alcorn does mention in her article that not only Indonesia applies the death penalty. Indeed, a total of 36 countries has capital punishment, including the United States. However, Alcorn’s article ignores statistics that place Indonesia at the very bottom of the list of countries that execute their criminals.
China, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and the United States occupy the top.
I do not intend to justify or make the murder of eight people less tragic. However, I am pointing out the inappropriateness of pitting Indonesia against the West, just because of the recent executions. This argument will merely divert attention from the main issue.
Nonetheless, it is just as ridiculous when those who are pro-capital punishment accuse Anggun of being non-nationalistic.
What is the relationship between nationalism and the death penalty? Is capital punishment a unique characteristic of Indonesia, so that people who disagree with the policy can be considered anti-Indonesian?
Both sides have claimed that their argument is based on humanity: the pros argue that the death penalty can save more lives by murdering the criminals; the cons also insist the practice merely sacrifices people’s lives in vain.
So, if this is about people’s lives, let us get the facts straight and conduct further studies. Let us gather the data and analyze it properly, instead of throwing arguments around without proper evidence.
Soe Tjen Marching, author of “Kubunuh di Sini” (“I Killed Here”), is currently working on a book chronicling the lives of victims from the 1965 anti-communist purge.
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