Four executed and more to come: Jokowi’s “shoot to kill” strategy on fighting drugs


In an interview with Al Jazeera in mid 2015, President of Indonesia Joko Widodo, with his usual composedness and eloquence, expressed Indonesia’s hardline stance on capital punishment for drug-related crimes: an absolute focus on the collective ‘right to life’ rather than on individual rights, and a simplistic cause-effect attribution between the death penalty and crime reduction or deterrence. Against this backdrop, the third round execution since late 2014 was carried out at 00:45 on the 29th July. Four of the fourteen drug convicts currently on death row were executed by a firing squad, including one Indonesian and three Nigerians.

Within a day after Indonesian authorities confirmed the initial decision on the execution of 14 drug convicts (including 10 foreigners), advocacy for a moratorium on the death penalty mushroomed in Jakarta as well as in major cities in Australia. Human rights NGOs and major media outlets created advocacy “rallies” on social media and encouraged people to join their online protests, in the hope of stopping the imminent execution.

Indonesia’s hard position on the alleged ‘war on drugs’ and in particular, the application of capital punishment for serious drug offenders, has regional and global political implications. Indonesia’s diplomatic relationship with Australia has been less than smooth since the execution in April 2015 of the two convicted Australian citizens, Andrew Chan and Myurna Sukumaran, members of the ‘Bali 9’. The Indonesian authorities seemed to have adopted a similar strategy in the current case, turning a deaf ear to the claim that Nigerian convict Michael Titus Igweh faced unfair trials and torture. Although Pakistani, Zulfiqar Ali was not among one of the four executed, the Indonesian government did not give any official response to the Pakistani Government's pleas for its citizen, who was said to be tortured into making a confession.

Given President Widodo has established the death penalty as a ‘signature policy’, in the words of Human Rights Watch Asia, Deputy Director, Phelim Kinehis, there seems little room to persuade the Indonesian government to rethink its inhumane policy. Although the Indonesian government has shown some concern for international advocacy to stop the execution, the killing of four individuals is no more justifiable nor merciful than the execution of fourteen. There is no doubt that Indonesia’s reversion to capital sentence and its reluctance to heed appeals for clemency and urgings of the international world will again make Indonesia, together with President Widodo himself targets of international denouncement.

It seems that the ‘war on drugs’ in southeast Asia has been living up to its name, with the Philippine’s drug-related deaths totalling 467 (as at 28th July 2016) in less than two months, Indonesia’s three rounds of showcase executions, Thailand’s overflowing prisons, host to drug-related convicts, and China’s high execution rate of drug offenders. The ASEAN Leaders’ Declaration on Drug-Free ASEAN 2015 sets out a long-overdue guideline which appears to be rhetoric. Regardless of human casualties, the execution of the ‘war on drugs’ mirrors ASEAN’s human rights standard, where the violation of individual rights is justifiable if the act is done for the ‘greatest happiness for the greatest number’. This standard is reflected in ASEAN’s guideline document on the protection of human rights:

 The exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of others, and to meet the just requirements of national security, public order, public health, public safety, public morality, as well as the general welfare of the peoples in a democratic society. (Article 8, General Principles, ASEAN Human Rights Declaration)

What should we do to stop such killings? OR rather, what shouldn't we do? We certainly shouldn't simply forget about the executions after protesting and candle-holding, nor feeling victorious ’sparing’ the lives of the ten victims out of fourteen. If nothing substantive is done, there will undoubtedly be a fourth round and a fifth round of executions. We should not simply urge governments to abolish the death penalty, then passively wait for the day they decide to make changes. We can't afford the time because time means lives. Shaming governments is neither an effective strategy, as it may make government more defensive entrench policies. Rather, we need to not only point out the problem, but also provide workable solutions for governments that allow them to take action in ways which are politically palatable. And importantly, we should acknowledge the power of local advocacy and local people’s role in the abolition of death penalty, and encourage and provide them with necessary economic and legal support.


The author, Xiaotong Sun, is the AHRCentre Reprieve Intern for semester 2, 2016. To read more articles from The Student Voice, click here. For more information about Reprieve, please visit