Darling Of West, Indonesia's Jokowi OKs Executions For Drug Crimes

Though many voters believed they were electing a pro-human rights president, Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, has demonstrated no mercy in executions, even for drug trafficking.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo
Indonesian President Joko Widodo
Rachel Hayter

JAKARTA — Indonesia is sending 11 people to the firing squad in its next round of executions, including two Australians for drug trafficking charges.

Six people have already been executed under new Indonesian President Joko Widodo, the politician universally known as Jokowi who assumed presidential office in October.

Indonesia's use of the death penalty is complicating its relationships with other countries, but the new Indonesian president says a "no mercy" approach to drug offenses is a necessary "shock therapy" in the face of a national drug emergency.

Human rights groups are disappointed. Poengky Indarti, executive director of the human rights watchdog Imparsial, says the executions are inconsistent with the president's campaign promises.

"At the beginning, we considered Jokowi pro-human rights," she says. "And in his campaign platform, he said that he will respect human rights. We hoped that this promise would be followed through. But after just 91 days in power, he started executing people. Shouldn't promises be delivered?"

At the same time, the Indonesian government is trying to save its own citizens on death row in Saudi Arabia. The chairperson of the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights says the president's stance won't help their cases.

"If Indonesia executes people from other countries — there are 267 Indonesians who are on death row in other countries — it would be difficult to save them through diplomacy because it doesn't seem fair," he says.

After a Dutch and Brazilian citizen were executed two weeks ago, their governments recalled their ambassadors. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has personally asked for clemency for Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the two Australians set to be executed. A grassroots mercy campaign is underway in Australia, with candlelight vigils and events calling for compassion being held in major cities.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran — Photo: Facebook support group

Australian journalist Melanie Morrison attended one such concert in Sydney. "It was very reflective," she says. "It was somber. I think people realize it's going to take more than a concert to change President Jokowi's mind. You know, it's the 11th hour, and there are some legal things happening. But I think people just want Myuran and Andrew and their families to know that people care. And people realize that the two Australians have changed and are now doing very good things and have become very good people."

But music for mercy can't be heard on the streets of Jakarta, where support for the death penalty is strong. The Matraman area of Jakarta is notorious for drug users. Children roam the streets, scattering roosters and cats, while men mill about talking and smoking.

Pak Odong, 40, supports the executions. "Drug selling is increasing, and it kills many young people. What about the future of those young people? I hope the death sentence can be a cure for the habit," he says.

Local politician Sugianto says, "Indonesia is now considered a drug stream for the whole world."

These are the people President Widodo is representing, and he shows no sign of breaking his commitment to 20 more executions this year.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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