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Indonesia’s government is working hard to prevent Saudi Arabia from executing Satinah Binti Jumadi Ahmad, an Indonesian domestic worker on death row since 2010 for murdering and robbing her Saudi employer’s wife. Indonesia has launched a formal appeal to Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah to pardon Ahmad, and Ahmad’s family has paved the way for that pardon by paying the victim’s family a legally recognized “blood debt” equivalent to US$1.9 million in late 2014.  As a result, Ahmad may be spared execution.

Marco Archer Cardoso Moreira, a Brazilian citizen on death row in Indonesia since 2003 for drug smuggling, is less fortunate.  The Indonesian government is preparing to execute by firing squad Moreira and five other prisoners sentenced to death for drug-related offenses as soon as January 18. Moreira’s lawyer has said that the government has denied requests by the Brazilian government to extradite Moreira in order to allow him to serve a prison sentence in Brazil.

The Indonesian government’s pursuit of clemency for Ahmad in Saudi Arabia while ignoring its own continued use of the death penalty is more than just about hypocrisy on the right to life. It’s an expression of recently elected President Joko Widodo’s avowed support for  the death penalty as an “important shock therapy” for drug law violators. Widodo last month denied those same five prisoners’ petitions for clemency on the basis that drug traffickers on death row had “destroyed the future of the nation.” 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.

International human rights law limits use of the death penalty to only “the most serious crimes,” typically crimes resulting in death or grievous bodily harm. The United Nations Human Rights Committee and the UN expert on unlawful killings have condemned using the death penalty in drug cases, and 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. All this makes Indonesia’s application of the death penalty for drug-related convictions particularly odious.

Marco Archer Cardoso Moreira is no less deserving of the Indonesian government’s mercy than Satinah Binti Jumadi Ahmad. President Widodo has an opportunity to demonstrate wise leadership by recognizing the well-documented failure of the death penalty as a crime deterrent and joining the growing number of countries that have abolished capital punishment.


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