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Geopolitics

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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