Last week Indonesia shot nine drug smugglers after a decade on death row. Since most were foreigners, the final days saw much megaphone diplomacy: greatest attention going predictably to two (non-white) Australians. Canberra has form here. Its outspoken responses to the eighties hangings in Malaysia of two (white) Australian traffickers caused a diplomatic rift for years. Asian governments dislike being hectored by the west, and can’t afford to be seen by their own citizens as knee-benders making exceptions on ground of skin colour or nationality.
Some online commentators called President Joko-Widodo cowardly. You have to wonder what planet they live on. ‘Jokowi’ came in last year on a Mister Clean ticket, mandated to root out corruption. Good luck to him. He’ll probably fail, and be corrupted himself. We’ll see. Meanwhile he’d be a fool to shower precious political capital on those whose guilt has not, with the part exception of one granted a temporary stay, been contested.
At issue are the death penalty itself and prohibition. On the first I take no principled stand. If it is a net saver of lives and can be applied without fear or favour, with risks of miscarriage minimal, then I support it. But evidence of deterrance? Inconclusive. Impartial use? America’s death row is light on wealthy killers. Safety of convictions? The UK’s wrongfully hanged apart, seventeen innocent men and women would certainly have swung had they been convicted a decade or so earlier: Guildford 4, Birmingham 6 and Maguire 7.
As for prohibition, I see three possible motives for those politicians who deem it necessary and effective. One is that their emotions blind them to the facts, most significantly that prohibition feeds organised crime and terror. A second is that they dare not offend “the public” (read, Daily Mail and equivalents). A third (I can’t say how likely) is that, already corrupt, they have a personal stake in maintaining prohibition and the wealth it generates.
But since the death penalty does exist, and since drugs are outlawed, there’s not a lot to say about the Indonesian executions beyond the fact, which probably hadn’t escaped your attention, that ours is not a fair world. Only the small fry will ever take that last walk to Asia’s gallows and firing posts.