Indonesia's foreign ministry defends stance on capital punishment

Indonesia's foreign ministry defends stance on capital punishment
Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi.

Amid accusations that the government has double standards on capital punishment, the Foreign Ministry has defended its stance, insisting that it is every government's duty to protect its own citizens.

Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi said on Tuesday that the ministry's efforts to save Indonesian nationals from the death penalty abroad was a separate issue from President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's insistence on executing death-row drug convicts .

"Many of our citizens are also facing the death penalty abroad. Will our position on the death penalty weaken our defence of Indonesian citizens facing it? No, it should not, as we are obliged to protect Indonesians facing legal problems abroad," she said.

The government has been adamant about executing death-row drug convicts as part of Indonesia's "war on drugs".

Six drug convicts were executed in January and 10 more, including two Australian members of the Bali Nine drug ring, are expected to face the firing squad soon, nine of them having been moved to the Nusakambangan prison island off the coast of Cilacap in Central Java.

According to the latest data from the National Narcotics Agency (BNN), there were 4 million drug users in 2014.

The BNN also claims that an average of 33 people die everyday nationwide from drug abuse.

The executions have caused outrage in the international community, with the UN human rights office saying that the executions would weaken Indonesia's position when arguing on behalf of its own nationals facing the death penalty abroad.

According to the ministry's data, there are 299 Indonesians facing execution overseas, 57 per cent of them for drug offences.

Malaysia has executed several Indonesian migrants for drug trafficking, while several more are appealing to the country's High Court after receiving death sentences for drug and murder cases.

Previously, the government has paid large sums of diyat (blood money) in order to release or reduce the sentences of Indonesian nationals in Saudi Arabia.

However, the government has not allocated a budget for diyat this year.

Retno emphasised that countries often did not agree on how to deal with drug convicts and said she understood foreign countries' concern about the government executing their citizens.

"But that is the most important job of a diplomat; to smooth things over, even in the worst situation," she said.

Since the first execution in January, tensions have run high with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff postponing the acceptance of the new Indonesian ambassador's credentials. As a result, the Foreign Ministry recalled the ambassador, Toto Riyanto, who will remain in Jakarta until there is a guarantee he will be received by Rousseff.

Separately, the ministry's director for legal aid and the protection of Indonesian nationals overseas, Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, said that most migrant workers who were found guilty of drug-related offences suffered from psychological illness.

"Many have experienced past traumas that make them an easy target for drug rings," he said.

BNN deputy for community empowerment Bachtiar H. Tambunan concurred, saying that migrant workers were prone to becoming drug mules because of their lack of training and education.

"Sometimes they don't even know that they are carrying drugs. They are tricked by drug rings," Bachtiar claimed.

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