COM 02/2020

Interview with Maidina Rahmawati, Institute of Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR), Indonesia

On the side-lines of CPG’s International Workshop Death Penalty in Asia: Reform Issues in Comparative Perspectives which took place at the end of last year, the team sat down with a number of experts to discuss the issue of the death penalty within the framework of their respective countries. This is the second of four interviews and is looking at Indonesia. The expert, Maidina Rahmawati works with the Institute of Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) in Indonesia.

We talked about her institute’s recent report on death penalty and how the government’s commitment to a moratorium actually resulted in a 10% increase in death sentences.

In Indonesia there are 14 offences that carry the death penalty as a sentence, including murder, drug-related crimes or terrorism. Unlike in other countries, where most of the death sentences come with convictions of murder, in Indonesia most of the cases are drug related. Read the full interview:

Q: How do you characterise the situation of the death penalty in Indonesia today and what are the related issues that you and your institute work on?

A: For the most comprehensive answer, let me refer to our report from last year on the death penalty. One major issue therein is that the government said they are committed to a moratorium of the death penalty but what we see now is that there is an increase of 10% of the use of the death penalty.

So, we see that the commitment by the government contradicts realities. Death penalty cases are even increasing for drug related crimes. In general, the report shows that the struggle to end death penalty is still a long-term journey with very serious challenges in Indonesia. [To read the full report, click here]

Q: What crimes carry the death penalty in Indonesia exactly, in addition to those related to drugs? And what are the most common convictions leading to it?

A: There are plenty of other crimes. We have 14 laws that impose the death penalty, like murder, drugs, terrorism, child abuse or treason.

If you look at the international trend the most common crime for the death penalty is murder but in Indonesia it clearly is drug offences. It’s a big problem we see that the recent cases of the death penalty in Indonesia are drug related offences. This is especially true for women where as our data shows, only two women sentenced to death were not convicted because of drug offences.

Q: Are there any particular regional differences and what courts apply the death sentence?

A: Here we don’t have mechanisms of federal law, so basically our law is national. When it comes to drug offences it means that the law applies to all regions of Indonesia. When it comes to death penalty decisions the first instance court of the juristic process is the district court, which is where most death sentences are received.

Q: What is your impression on public opinion in Indonesia? Is the death penalty widely welcomed by the population or it seen critically? Have there even been any reliable studies?

A: There are no studies on the public opinion yet, but we see that a problem of the death penalty has become more of a philosophical problem, because our scholars and academics say that the death penalty issue is about religion and culture when in fact there is a lot of research from an NGO in Indonesia that works on the abolition of the death penalty that says there is no proof of that.

But public opinion is important and, in my view, because most of the Indonesian population is part of the Muslim community, most believe that the death penalty has to be part of a criminal process. There is however a progressive movement within the government to reform the penal code and abolish the death penalty. A recent track record of Indonesian officials’ Statements on Death Penalty indicate as much, as you can again find in the report I have mentioned.

Regardless, we have to see that by and large, statements expressed by state officials, political figures and criminal law experts show that the use of the death penalty as a government-sanctioned practice is still part of the national policy in Indonesia.