Like many others, I have been dismayed, sickened really, at the recent executions carried out in Indonesia of eight men for drug offences.
There were many problems which have been well documented, but in particular, there were so many problems with the legal process. One person apparently in fact lacked capacity to stand trial, and did not understand he was going to be executed even hours off from the event. Two others maintained their innocence, and one of those was herself claiming to be a victim of human trafficking unknowingly forced into drug trafficking (she received an 11th hour reprieve – obvious problems with the blanket denial of clemency requests there Mr President). There were allegations of serious corruption in the sentencing process. Lawyers for the Australians claim that the sentencing judge asked for $120,000 for a life, rather than death, sentence. Investigation into these claims have not finished. And, in some ways, perhaps most incomprehensibly for lawyers, there were two appeals pending for the two Australians who have now already been executed: a constitutional appeal and a separate judicial review.
In this case, the rule of law was replaced by power politics. The Australian men were, in my view, pawns in a geopolitical wiener-waving competition. Further, Australia’s position was hopelessly compromised by our own terrible policy positions on asylum seekers, including reliance on Indonesian support to tow back the boats of asylum seekers to Indonesian waters, and complete inconsistency in our advocacy on the death penalty.Trading on the lives of people to make political statements is, in my view, an inherently evil thing.
Most of all, it’s a ghastly example of how the death penalty is just too irrevocable a sentence. As Bryan Stevenson says, it’s a perfect solution, but we don’t have perfect systems. He says a lot of things about the death penalty that should have a wider audience, so listen to that talk if you haven’t already. Something I’ve been thinking about though is the question of agency. I understand that of the six member firing squad, three guns have live ammunition, and three carry blanks. The very fact that we have to have these mechanisms for obscuring agency, of distancing the agents from the act itself, is surely a clear demonstration of its inhumanity, of the fact that it brutalises all who become involved.
I think it is problematic that the person who makes the sentencing decisions, and who has power to grant clemency is different from the person who actually carries out the execution and has to tend to the rest of the consequences (and I’m making this argument in respect of all jurisdictions that have the death penalty). In this case, maybe the judges may have been less cavalier if they were also responsible for implementation. The President may have actually turned his mind to the merits of those 64 clemency applications he rejected in a blanket fashion if he’d had to deliver the decision directly to those he denied, tie them to stakes, pull the trigger, collect the bodies, dress them for the funeral, and then had to face the loved ones of those he’d personally executed.