Former Indonesian president 'rejects' death penalty

Former Indonesian President Bacharuddin Habibie.
Getty Images

Former Indonesian President Bacharuddin Habibie.

The third president of Indonesia has publicly revealed he opposes the death penalty as the country prepares for a third round of executions of drug offenders.

In a sign of growing dissent over capital punishment within Indonesia, former president Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie said he had arrived at the conclusion that no man had the right to take someone's life.

"It is God's prerogative right," the 79-year-old, who ruled Indonesia following the fall of Suharto, said at the launch of the book Politik Hukuman Mati di Indonesia (The politics of the death penalty in Indonesia) in Jakarta.

Febyanti Herewila, wife of Andrew Chan, at the funeral for her husband in Sydney last year.
Brendan Esposito

Febyanti Herewila, wife of Andrew Chan, at the funeral for her husband in Sydney last year.

"So if you ask: 'Habibie, what is your comment on capital punishment?' The answer is that I reject it."

Another round of executions will take place after the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in June, according to the Attorney-General's office.

The announcement followed weeks of febrile speculation that the end was imminent for up to 15 drug offenders on death row, as firing squads prepared on Indonesia's death island, Nusakambangan.

Java Christian Church has prepared 10 coffins for prisoners sentenced to death and awaiting execution in Indonesia last year.
Aris Andrianto

Java Christian Church has prepared 10 coffins for prisoners sentenced to death and awaiting execution in Indonesia last year.

Last year, President Joko Widodo moved swiftly to execute 14 drug offenders – including Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan – citing a drug emergency.

The death penalty is widely supported in Indonesia, with media polls typically showing about 75 per cent approval.

Joko last week authorised judges to sentence child sex offenders to death following a national outcry over the gang rape of a 14-year-old girl in Sumatra.

The funeral for Myuran Sukumaran in Sydney last year.
James Brickwood

The funeral for Myuran Sukumaran in Sydney last year.

But the anti death-penalty campaign is gaining momentum. Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly and popular Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known better as Ahok, both oppose capital punishment.

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Former Indonesian judge Professor Jimly Asshiddiqie told the book launch he regretted he had been unable to convince a fellow judge to abolish the death penalty in a landmark Constitutional Court case in 2007.

The case, brought by Sukumaran and Chan and others, claimed the death penalty was inconsistent with the guarantee of the right to life in the constitution.

Professor Asshiddiqie, who was chairman of the Constitutional Court at the time, said unfortunately the case came at a time when there was huge public anger about drugs in Indonesia.

He voted with the majority – six votes to three – to uphold the death penalty.

However he confessed to the book launch that he actually agreed with the dissenting judges who believed the death penalty was unconstitutional.

"Actually I will share with you the secret ... I was with them," he said.

Professor Asshiddiqie said the constitutional court, established in 2003 as part of reforms following the Suharto regime, was a new institution at the time.

"I didn't always agree with the court's ruling but I also rarely made dissenting opinions," he said.

"Because those who make dissenting opinions are the ones who will make it into newspaper headlines."

But Professor Asshiddiqie, who was a key player in the anti-death penalty lobby in Jakarta in the lead-up to the executions last year, said he regretted not being able to persuade a fourth judge the death penalty was unconstitutional.

"Because if in 2007 we managed to have five (judges support) the abolishment of capital punishment ... the history of capital punishment would surely have been changed."

Meanwhile the Indonesian government is scrambling to assist Indonesian migrant worker Rita Krisdianti, who has been sentenced to death in Malaysia for carrying four kilograms of methamphetamines.

The foreign ministry has appointed a team of lawyers to file an appeal.

Human rights lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis, who represented Chan and Sukumaran, said the Indonesia's inconsistency was obvious when it defended migrant workers on death row overseas but carried out executions at home.

 - Sydney Morning Herald

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