President Joko open to review of death penalty

JAKARTA • Indonesia's President Joko Widodo has said he would restore a moratorium on the death penalty if he won the backing of the people, after a spate of executions that drew international condemnation.

Mr Joko declared an anti-drug campaign soon after taking office in 2014 and refused all requests for pardons from death-row drug convicts, ending a four-year moratorium.

But in recent months, he has softened his position.

Asked in an interview with AFP on Monday whether he would consider a moratorium, Mr Joko said: "Why not? But I must ask my people. If my people say OK, they say yes, I will start to prepare."

A moratorium could be the first step towards abolishing the death penalty, a move that needs approval in Parliament which has been discussing the issue for the past year.

However, Mr Joko said it would be difficult to secure parliamentary backing without clear public support in a conservative, Muslim-majority country where voters are deeply concerned about high levels of addiction.

He cited a 2015 private survey that found 85 per cent of Indonesians supported the death penalty for drug traffickers.

Since Mr Joko came to power, Indonesia has put 18 people - 15 of them foreigners - before the firing squad for drug trafficking.

They include a group of eight - two Australians, a Brazilian, an Indonesian and four Nigerians - who were executed in a single night in April 2015 on the prison island of Nusakambangan.

They were taken to a jungle clearing and tied to stakes before being shot, in a move that sparked global criticism.

The executions of Australian drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in particular caused tensions, with Canberra temporarily recalling its ambassador from Jakarta.

Among the foreigners now on death row are Frenchman Serge Atlaoui and Filipina Mary Jane Veloso - both pulled from the April 2015 round of executions.

Mr Joko has insisted that the death penalty is part of Indonesia's law and serves as deterrent against drug trafficking.

But some analysts have said that since Mr Joko is the first Indonesian president from outside the establishment - he was neither in the military nor part of the elites - he needed to show a strong hand on law enforcement.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 29, 2017, with the headline 'President Joko open to review of death penalty'. Print Edition | Subscribe