Indonesia is a deeply religious country, of a range of diverse faiths. Most of the country’s 230 million believe that they were given life by God and that they must live their lives according to his will. They are his servants on Earth.
Indonesia’s, like many around the world, is a culture that bases its societal norms on this premise that its people have been gifted with their existence by a higher power; and that it is a life that is fleeting and people must comply with the wishes of the supreme being. Tens of millions of people here make obeisance daily to their creator, who they believe has the power to give and take life.
Nowhere more do we see this mass expression of faith than during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadhan, which has just ended, when the faithful abstain from earthly pleasures, including food and water, in order to be closer to God.
It is therefore astounding that this country also plays the role of God, in its justice system, in deciding whether people should live; and that it carries out killings of those who breach human-devised laws.
We speak of capital punishment, a sentence that brutally ends the life of someone who has committed such serious crimes as murder or drug trafficking.
With three Australians on death row in Bali whose final appeals are now before the courts — and others in Bali and around the country — capital punishment in Indonesia is again gaining international attention.
We are steadfast in opposing this unspeakable penalty. No matter what the sentenced person has done, however horrifying, officialdom cannot play a part in the end of a person’s life. State killing is intrinsically abhorrent. No one has the authority to decide if a person should die; and those who end the lives of others, we believe, will answer for their severe wrongdoings at the end of their existence on Earth. There is also the disturbing — and commonplace — issue of miscarriages of justice. During the course of human history it has been shown that some prisoners have been put to death for crimes that they did not commit. This is the ultimate human folly, one that cannot be rectified.
Indonesia, which brutally administers capital punishment by firing squad, has asked Malaysia not to execute three Indonesian men on death row there for drug trafficking, in sentences to be barbarically carried out by hanging. They are: Parlan Dadeh, Bustaman bin Bukhari and Tarmizi bin Yakub. Their avenues of appeal have been exhausted.
The Justice and Human Rights Ministry said last weekend that it was hopeful the men’s sentences would be commuted. This reveals a distressing double standard. Drug traffickers are routinely executed in Indonesia, yet the government insists its people must not be executed in other countries. This surely is a case for the abolition of the death penalty in Indonesia.
The Philippines, a deeply religious country, abolished the death penalty four years ago, reprieving 1,200 prisoners on death row. Others, Indonesia included, should follow this most moral of paths.
Every right-thinking, ethical person accepts that it is wrong to kill people; but since this is so, why does our country kill them? The answer is that our country is wrong. Executing people makes us all just as criminal as the criminals themselves. They should, instead, spend the rest of their lives incarcerated, removed from just society. We cannot call ourselves a civilized and enlightened society if we, too, kill. We had no conscious decision to be here; we cannot decide who should leave.
If we cannot live by our morality, we cannot really live at all.