Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo dropped fresh hints this week that he supports reinstatement of the official moratorium on the death penalty, but only if the Indonesian public supports the move. “Why not? But I must ask my people. If my people say OK, they say yes, I will start to prepare [to reinstate a moratorium].”
We’ve been here before. In November 2016, Jokowi suggested the Indonesian government might emulate European governments by moving toward abolishing the death penalty. At that time, Jokowi said his government was “very open to options” on death penalty alternatives, without elaborating. But since then, neither he nor his government have taken any serious steps to change Indonesia’s policy. On the contrary, in recent weeks Indonesia seems poised to execute up to six convicted drug traffickers from foreign countries on the prison island of Nusa Kambangan.
The gap between Jokowi’s rights-respecting rhetoric and the absence of policy measures to back it up is unsurprising. Jokowi has a well-earned reputation for talking the talk on human rights policies, but consistently failing to deliver. He’s stalled on accountability plans for past gross human rights violations, such as the massacres of 1965-66; failed to abolish discriminatory laws fostering religious intolerance; and lacked follow-through on promises of accountability for abuses in Papua.
Indonesia ended a four-year unofficial moratorium on the death penalty in March 2013, and Jokowi has made the execution of convicted drug traffickers a signature issue of his presidency. Jokowi has justified using the death penalty by saying drug traffickers on death row have “destroyed the future of the nation.” In December 2014, he told students that the death penalty for convicted drug traffickers was an “important shock therapy” for anyone who violates Indonesia’s drug laws. Since taking office in 2014, his government has executed 18 convicted drug traffickers, though no executions have taken place this year. The majority of those executed have been citizens of other countries, and Jokowi rejected their government’s calls for clemency, citing national sovereignty.
Jokowi should not hinge his action on so fundamental an issue as capital punishment on the vagaries of popular support. Instead, he should take this opportunity to demonstrate leadership and bolster his rhetorical support for a death penalty moratorium with real action. Indecision is no reason to impose an inherently cruel punishment.