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November 13, 2004 - The Australian (Australia)

Execution Of Justice

Three Australians May Face the Death Penalty in Indonesia As Authorities Try to Curb the Drug Trade

By Sian Powell and Olivia Rondonuwu

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

INDONESIA'S bitter war on drugs has roared unchecked across a nation where civil liberties, due process and merciful sentencing are luxuries enjoyed only by the elite.

A few brave voices have spoken out against capital punishment for drug crimes and a few others have lamented the sledgehammer approach of the police. But, for the most part, Indonesians are happy to see drug dealers and users sentenced to death.

Of the 54 men and women crossing off the days on Indonesia's death row, 31 have been convicted of smuggling or possessing drugs. Murder comes a poor second, with 19 people sentenced to death, and terrorism third, with four. Three drug smugglers -- two Thais and an Indian -- have been shot by firing squads so far this year, the first executions since 2001. As many as seven other drug criminals have had their last appeals for mercy rejected and await imminent execution.

The drug-war rhetoric of religious leaders and government figures has galvanised a nation fearful of the damage heroin, amphetamines, opiates and even marijuana can wreak on impressionable youngsters. Now three Australians have been caught up in the fevered rush to punish drug criminals, and punish them severely.

Schapelle Leigh Corby, 27, a beauty-school student from Queensland's Gold Coast, was arrested at Bali's Ngurah Rai airport last month and accused of trying to smuggle 4.1kg of marijuana into Indonesia. Indonesian police have recommended prosecutors charge her under laws that carry the death penalty.

Chris Currell, 37, from Brisbane, has been detained in Bali for allegedly trying to send ephedrine pills and powder to Australia. The crime of possessing or selling psychotropic drugs carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

Chris Wardill, 27, from Darwin, was detained in the western Indonesian island of Batam last Sunday for possessing what are thought to be four ecstasy pills.

Former president Megawati Sukarnoputri first declared war on drugs in 2002, insisting on capital punishment for drug dealers. "For those who distribute drugs, life sentences and other prison sentences are no longer sufficient," she said. "No sentence is sufficient other than the death sentence."

Indonesia's new leader Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has also publicly supported the death penalty. His deputy, Jusuf Kalla, reportedly even asked for the expedition of executions when he was a minister under Megawati. None of the candidates in the recent presidential elections opposed capital punishment.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have become increasingly worried by Indonesia's new relish for judicial executions. In an as yet unpublished briefing on Indonesia's death penalty, Amnesty notes there have even been demands to impose the death penalty for illegal logging and corruption.

Amnesty says it is concerned by Indonesia's "increasing willingness" to execute criminals, particularly drug traffickers, and adds it is alarmed by official statements that more criminals will be executed soon.

Indonesian Attorney-General Abdul Rahman Saleh's spokesman R.J. Soehandojo confirms the Government has become increasingly tough on drug criminals, especially traffickers.

"Heavier punishments have already been legislated because drug activities are very dangerous for the nation and the people," he says. Drugs, he adds, have infiltrated all layers of Indonesian society, from soldiers and the police to elementary school children. "If drug dealers are not heavily punished, with the heaviest sentences, there is grave danger. This country will be destroyed because of drugs."

This rhetoric is echoed by the police and prosecutors connected to Corby's case. Last week, the prosecution sent her case file back to the police, requesting additional information, but it remains likely her trial date will be set before the end of December.

Bali's chief prosecutor for general crimes, Muhammad Yusni, says five or six people have been charged under laws that carry the death sentence in Bali and in recent months a Sierra Leone man, Emmanuel O. Lhejirika, was sentenced to death in Bali for possessing 461.7g of heroin. Heavy sentences are necessary deterrents, Yusni says. "It's a lesson, so others won't follow in their paths."

A spokeswoman for Bali's Attorney-General Nunuk Sugiyarti agrees that it's up to the authorities to protect the tourist island. "We don't want Bali to be ruined," she says. "Their crimes are of an international nature; they want to make Bali an international market for narcotics. We're not playing here, this is serious."

Bali's drug squad chief Bambang Sugiarto seems confident Corby will be convicted: she has admitted the body-board bag was hers, he says. The pillow-sized sack of marijuana was found in the unlocked bag at Bali's airport, and Corby has repeatedly and strenuously denied she knows anything about the marijuana.

Yet Uli Parulian Sihombing, director of Jakarta's Legal Aid Foundation, says that might not be sufficient. "She has to have strong witnesses, other than herself, who will say the drugs weren't in her bag before she arrived in Bali," he says. "She needs witnesses who will say she didn't know the drugs were there, such as Australian Customs officials."

Corby has been accused of smuggling marijuana, which in Australia is classified as a less dangerous drug than heroin or cocaine. But in Indonesia, marijuana is in the same category as heroin.

Most of the drug criminals on Indonesia's death row were caught with heroin, although Indonesian Kiagus Zainal Abidin was sentenced to death by the South Sumatra High Court for trafficking 58.7kg of marijuana. Brazilian Marco Archer Cardoso Moreira was also sentenced to death, in July, for trying to bring into Indonesia 13.4kg of cocaine hidden in his hang-glider frame.

Indonesian courts, particularly Tangerang District Court, which has jurisdiction over Jakarta's Sukarno Hatta airport, have come down increasingly hard on drug dealers. Former justice minister Muladi reportedly called Tangerang court a "judicial killing machine", ready to bring down the hammer on hard-drug mules.

Twenty-two of the drug convicts on Indonesia's death row are foreigners, mostly from Africa. Nine are Indonesian. Most seem to be extremely poor, unable to buy their way out of trouble.

Bunyong Khaosa, for instance, is a 45-year-old single mother from Thailand who was arrested trying to smuggle 450g of heroin into Indonesia in April 2002. She was caught at Jakarta airport: officials were suspicious because her clothes looked far too shabby for the tourist she purported to be. She was sentenced to death by Tangerang District Court in October 2002.

Money talks for drug criminals. Indonesia is notoriously corrupt, routinely languishing near the bottom of global corruption indexes, and the rot has spread through certain sections of the police and judiciary. One source says some of the wealthier and more savvy foreigners caught with drugs can bribe police officers and avoid court altogether, while others, less lucky, are kept in prison paying bribes until their funds are exhausted, at which point they are promptly deported.

Certainly, it is widely known that some within the Indonesian military and police have a hand in drug-smuggling and drug distribution across the sprawling archipelago, and the forces occasionally have turf battles over particular areas. Yet it is difficult to find a case of a soldier or police officer facing justice for drug crimes.

Without a centralised statistics pool, it's difficult to even find out how many people have been accused or convicted of drug crimes in recent years but, according to one government agency, last year nearly 10,000 Indonesians were detained for drug crimes, compared with just more than 2500 in 1999. Yet despite the accelerating trend, there is scepticism that heavy penalties, even capital punishment, are enough to deter drug crimes.

Bhatara Ibnu Reza, a legal researcher with the human rights group Imparsial, says he is unaware of proof that imposing the death penalty will scare off everyone. "The problem remains, doesn't it?" he asks. "It's clear the problem lies with the inability of police and the law to control it.

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