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(Jakarta) – President Joko Widodo of Indonesia should commute the death sentences of five individuals scheduled for execution “as soon as possible” for violation of drug trafficking laws, Human Rights Watch said today. Widodo earlier this month authorized the executions of the five prisoners, whose names have not been publicly released.

“President Widodo should join the global tide toward abolishing the death penalty rather than approving multiple executions,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. “Indonesia should demonstrate leadership among Asian nations by stopping the barbarous practice once and for all.”

Widodo justified his denial of the five prisoners’ petitions for clemency on the basis that drug traffickers on death row had “destroyed the future of the nation.” He said during a lecture at a Yogyakarta college on December 9, 2014, that the death penalty for convicted drug traffickers was an “important shock therapy” for anyone who violates Indonesia’s drug laws.

According to Attorney General Office statistics, there are 136 people currently on death row in Indonesia, of whom 64 have been convicted of drug trafficking, two for terrorism, and the rest for murder and robbery. Indonesia ended a four-year unofficial moratorium on the use of the death penalty on March 15, 2013, when it executed by firing squad Adami Wilson, a 48-year-old Malawian national. An Indonesian court had convicted Wilson in 2004 of smuggling one kilogram of heroin into Indonesia.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty. Indonesia’s use of the death penalty is inconsistent with international human rights law, statements of United Nations human rights experts, and various UN bodies. Human rights law upholds every human being’s “inherent right to life” and limits the death penalty to “the most serious crimes,” typically crimes resulting in death. Indonesia should join with the many countries already committed to the UN General Assembly’s December 18, 2007 resolution calling for a moratorium on executions and a move by UN member countries toward abolition of the death penalty.

In a March 2010 report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes called for an end to the death penalty and specifically urged member countries to prohibit use of the death penalty for drug-related offenses while urging countries to take an overall “human rights-based approach to drug and crime control.” The UN Human Rights Committee and the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions have concluded that the death penalty for drug offenses fails to meet the condition of “most serious crime,” under which the death penalty is allowed only as an “exceptional measure” where “there was an intention to kill which resulted in the loss of life.” The UN high commissioner for human rights and the director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime have likewise expressed grave concerns about the application of the death penalty for drug offenses.

“President Widodo should recognize that the death penalty is a barbaric punishment, not a crime deterrent,” Kine said. “If Widodo is serious about making Indonesia a regional model of a modern, rights-respecting democratic state, he should start by joining the countries that have abolished capital punishment.”

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