Commentary: In Indonesia, public opinion can condemn you to death

Commentary: In Indonesia, public opinion can condemn you to death

INDONESIA - Death to judge Akil Mochtar!

The former Constitutional Court chief isn't going to be condemned to death after he was caught red-handed taking bribe money at his house in Jakarta this month. But public rage, steered by both his predecessors in the court, Jimly Asshiddiqie and Mahfud MD, called for his blood.

Since the Corruption Law prescribes life imprisonment as the maximum punishment, the judge can rest in peace that even if the court should find him guilty he would be spared from the gallows, notwithstanding public opinion.

But no such luck for a number of drug offenders and premeditated murders on Indonesia's death row. Their fate to a large extent depends on public opinion.

Four people have been executed this year and six more will follow before the year ends, according to Imparsial, an NGO on the frontline fighting to abolish capital punishment.

Indonesia in March resumed sending people to the firing squads. Five years ago, it executed 10 people, including terrorists, serial killers and drug traffickers, before joining dozens of other countries to observe a moratorium on executions.

The five-year gap is no coincidence.

Both 2008 and 2013 are years before the country's general election.

The government is coming under strong pressure from public opinion to execute some of the more than 120 people who have been sentenced to death. Questions keep surfacing about why the government is holding back even for those who have exhausted all legal means of reprieve.

With the public angry by the endless news of massive drug trafficking and horrifying stories of serial murders, opinion is very much on the side of meeting more death sentences and their executions.

The movement to abolish capital punishment in Indonesia faces an uphill battle against public opinion.

On Thursday, a handful of people in this country observed the 11th European and World Day against the Death Penalty. Most people were unaware, or even cared about the cause. International Batik Day on Oct. 2 attracted much better awareness.

The Italian Cultural Institute and the European Union (EU) office in Jakarta organised a discussion, attended by no more than 30 people, on Thursday. There should have been more, but a busload of law students from the University of Indonesia (UI) got held up by traffic and arrived late.

Italy's role in the international campaign is based on history.

The state of Tuscany became the first political entity in the world that abolished the death penalty in 1786 after jurist and philosopher Cesare Beccaria wrote a book showing there was no correlation between the death penalty and criminality.

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