Tuesday, February 17, 2015

No to second chances: what Indonesia and Australia have in common

By Lauren Gumbs

This week Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan avoided being moved to Nusakambangan, however the Attorney General's small act of kindness can only grant reprieve for so long. Unless they receive presidential clemency, all hopes will be dashed that humanity can prevail. Despite their lawyers making last ditch appeals and despite the determined support of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Australia's diplomatic community, and the many concerned human rights campaigners, the cause seems hopeless. That is because for Indonesia, the issue of narcotics is as much a platform for populism as 'boat arrivals' are for Australia.

The issue is mired in political pressures and showmanship, misplaced moral panic and a growing sense of nationalism, stoked in part by Indonesia's economic rise and need to reinforce its sovereignty. But I could just as well be talking about the logic behind Australia's handling of refugees and asylum seekers. In a complex Indonesian legal and political environment, drug dealers are to Indonesian as people smugglers are to Australians. And while Australia doesn't kill people smugglers, we do lock up kids involved in the trade and there is about as much public outcry on that as there is in Indonesia about the executions of a few foreign nationals caught smuggling drugs.

So we do have our similarities. There is a harsh side to Indonesia just as there is to Australia. But just as Indonesia seemed to be rethinking its use of the death penalty under SBY, the wind changed. After ten years living in Indonesia's Kerobokan prison, the two sorry men used their time to rehabilitate. Nobody really thought they would be executed. And then Jokowi came along. A popular grassroots reformer who surprised everyone with his intolerant stance on drug traffickers and flat out refusal to consider the possibility that Indonesia's prison system could successfully reform its inmates.

His surprising indifference to foreign policy and failure to oppose the puppeteering of his party's chairman has resulted in a hard and unhelpful approach to add to many that still stymie Indonesia's democratic and human rights progress. In the past ten years, Indonesia has produced case after case of Indonesian police testing positive for drugs, Indonesian politicians caught with narcotics and Indonesian king pins receiving commuted sentences. There was hope Jokowi would be a catalyst for change, that he would clean up the corruption, strengthen the KPK, and implement human rights reforms. But hypocrisy and impunity has proved a match for rationalisation and reform. Indonesia is not there yet.

Myuran and Andrew, with hard drugs readily available all around them, managed to turn their backs on that world while having to live within it. Indonesia's drug problem does not kill nearly as many people as its tobacco problem does, but tobacco is its fourth largest industry and in this multiverse even children are fair game. It doesn't make sense for a state to decide a slow death from lung cancer is preferable to a quick death from a bullet. It isn't right and that's why the finality of the death penalty doesn't leave room for moral mistakes. In another ten years, when moderate and progressive voices become the majority - and they will - Indonesia's death penalty for non-violent crimes will be a sad reminder of a time when the state said no to second chances.

Lauren is Director of Social Media at the Indonesia Institute and is studying a Master of Human Rights through Curtin University.

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