Indonesia’s Attorney General HM Prasetyo has high praise for the April 29 executions of eight people on the country’s death penalty island of Nusa Kambangan, even saying the executions were “better, more orderly and more perfect” than those of six people in January.
That sunny appraisal suggests Prasetyo is unaware of the last moments of Rodrigo Gularte, a Brazilian national executed for drug trafficking. Gularte didn’t realize that he was about to die until the final minutes before he went before the firing squad, a Catholic priest who had counselled him said. That lack of understanding was no herculean act of denial. It was because Gularte reportedly had bipolar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia and simply didn’t understand the gravity of his situation until the very end. A Brazilian diplomat likewise described Gularte in “a very deteriorated psychiatric state” in the lead-up to his execution.
Indonesia’s death penalty spree, powered by President Joko Widodo’s wrong-headed belief in the deterrent effect of the death penalty, is already a barbaric punishment 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 or serious bodily harm.
But the apparent willingness of the Indonesian authorities to disregard medical evidence of Gularte’s apparent psychosocial disability is an appalling violation of both Indonesian law and international human rights standards. The UN Commission on Human Rights adopted resolutions in 1999 and 2000 urging countries that retain the death penalty not to impose it “on a person suffering from any form of mental disorder.” Article 44 of Indonesia’s Penal Code excludes from criminal punishment any person demonstrating “disorder of his mental capacities.”
Gularte’s execution should prompt an urgent inquiry into this affront to basic dignity. It reinforces the need for the Indonesian government to impose an immediate moratorium on the death penalty and move toward eventual abolition. Until it does, the Indonesian government’s death penalty “shock therapy” against convicted drug traffickers will risk yet more unlawful deaths.