When mercy has to take a back seat


The island of Nusakambangan was the centre of attention last Tuesday as the long drawn out battle to save eight convicted drug traffickers from execution in Indonesia finally came to an end.

On one side was the Indonesian government bent on carrying out the execution as stipulated in the country’s law while on the other side was the countries from which some of the traffickers came from, family members of the condemned prisoners and those who oppose death sentence.

The pleas and demands, some of which bordered on threats, to spare the lives of the two Australians, four Africans, one Brazilian, one Filipina and an Indonesian on death row were of no avail.

Why did Indonesia turned a deaf ear to all the entreaties to call off the executions despite the expected diplomatic fallout and revulsion they would bring?

President Joko Widodo must have faced a lot of pressure with so many people pleading for mercy for the convicted prisoners and giving very sound reasons to spare their lives.

In the midst of hand wringing and breast beating over the impending deaths of the prisoners, many lost sight of the fact that more was at stake than showing mercy to the drugs traffickers.

Much as Joko Widodo would have liked to ace to the pleas of mercy, he had no alternative because stepping back would have compromised the sovereignty of the nation.

It was not about Indonesia showing its strength to the world or Joko Widodo playing the tough guy to prove his mettle to his people.

It was about upholding and implementing the law of the country especially when the drug traffickers already knew the consequence if they were caught and convicted.

Everyone flying to Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and several other countries in the region are amply warned about the death sentence for drug trafficking.

Those caught have decided that the reward for smuggling drugs was worth taking this mortal risk and should be prepared to accept the price of being caught.

However, those who were proven to have been duped into carrying the drugs should be and were usually spared the gallows or firing squad.

Filipina Mary Jane Veloso was spared from facing the firing squad on this ground as a friend claimed at the eleventh hour that she tricked Mary Jane into carrying the suitcase which contained the drugs.

However, Indonesian Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo warned that Mary Jane’s reprieve was subject to the verification of her friend’s confession.

While it is a valid caveat on the reprieve as this could be ruse to save her, the world is hoping that it is true that this mother whose sons met her before her aborted execution was indeed a naïve woman tricked into smuggling the drugs.

The penalty for drug trafficking in Malaysia is also death penalty and this brings up the question of what would our government do if it were to face the same pressure from foreign countries to spare the lives of their citizens convicted of drugs trafficking in our country.

Like Joko Widodo, our prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak would have to stand firm on the court’s decision as buckling under foreign pressure would cast a long shadow over the nation’s sovereignty.

Condemning a person to death is a difficult decision and carrying out the sentence is made more difficult especially in the face of an international appeal for clemency.

Alas, for the seven who were executed their fate was sealed not by the Indonesian court but their decision to get into the lucrative but dangerous business of drug trafficking.

The silver lining in the dark cloud of the execution of the seven traffickers was their transformation from merchants of death to good citizens while in the death row.

They went to their death singing praises to God and faced the firing squad without blindfolds. They might not have received the mercy they pleaded for in this world but dying as repentant sinners they will receive mercy from the God they turned to.