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Source: Victoria Ojeme -
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The sad story of three Nigerians on death row in Indonesia — Ambassador Purwanto
Victoria Ojeme

In this interview, the Indonesia Ambassador to Nigeria, Harry Purwanto, shares the story of Indonesia legislation that recognises capital punishment for serious crimes.

In your CV, I saw that you were once a Deputy Chief of National Counter Terrorism Agency. What was your experience like working with the agency?

Terrorism in Indonesia is not a joke, it is really there. We experienced terror attacks in Indonesia with more than 400 dead. The danger in terrorism actually is not in the attacks. The danger is in the impact, the population is intimidated, that is the first. The second, they try to destabilize the economy, offer the people their ideology. Terrorism in Indonesia is mostly ideological-driven.

Indonesia has suffered from terrorism since independence. This agency is relatively young; it was established in 2011, it is doing a lot. We apply a two-pronged approach – the hard approach and the soft approach. On the hard approach, we try to crush, destroy, decapitate terrorist groups. We are not only destroying them, we are also bringing them to justice. We have brought more than a thousand people to justice and more than 400 are in prison. Some have been executed, some are to be released because they have fulfilled their terms of jail.

On the soft approach, we try to empower the society, so the people can have the confidence to challenge the terrorists who try to influence them. We also try to give the people counter narrative because, without appropriate counter narrative, they are easily influenced by extremists. Sometimes people are so convinced because if you are talking about religion, you are talking about something that can convince the people. Now we have done the first part. We have crushed the terrorists cells.

Meanwhile,what they are doing now is trying to use information technology to spread their lies and also try to make government look bad. And they are also trying to use the democratic environment in Indonesia, the freedom of press to disseminate this kind of information and this is a real challenge for us. In Indonesia, we have so many societies, so many ethnic groups, if we are not empowering the people, I think we are going to fail again.

There are three Nigerians awaiting execution in your country for drag trafficking. The Federal Government recently wrote a letter of clemency to your government on the matter. What is the reaction of your government?

There are nine foreigners on the list including three Nigerians. There are 20 Indonesians as well. Indonesia legislation recognises capital punishment for serious crimes. We apply death sentence in only serious crimes like terrorism and narcotics.

We remind foreigners going to Indonesia on the flight before they land that trafficking in Indonesia carries the death penalty, but there are certain amounts of the narcotic they can be sentenced to capital punishment for. This is not a government who sentences people to capital punishment. It is done through due process of law.

When people are apprehended for trafficking, they are tried for the sake of it in the district court; after that, convicts can go on appeal to the upper court. If they are not satisfied with the upper court, they can still appeal to the Supreme Court. After the Supreme Court, there is still one more step which is clemency. So people go through the three steps but the request for clemency now is being denied by the President because we are on the emergency of the danger of trafficking.

Under the due process of law, is there no negotiation at all?

Well, actually, the government of Indonesia operates on the basis of separation of power between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. The executive does not intervene in the affairs of the other arms of government.

Meanwhile, after a person has been tried, the role of the executive comes in at the end when clemency is required. And of course the President, when giving clemency, tries to seek advice from the ministries. Negotiation, that is rather not common in Indonesia. Perhaps, what you do is to ask your legal team or the embassy to make case for clemency on your behalf. You obviously cannot intervene in the legal process. I am very sorry that we are facing this kind of situation where three Nigerians are now almost being executed.

Is the Indonesian government looking at prison swap to assist these convicted Nigerians?

Yes. We are already negotiating with some countries including Nigeria. But the negotiations are not yet concluded because, in Indonesia, we are rather hesitant on prisoner swap. When I met the Nigerian Foreign Affairs Ministry Permanent Secretary, I really appreciated his appeal and I have sent his appeal to Jakarta and, of course, can appeal like this will not be only responded to by one institution.

There will be inter-agency consultations before you have a response on these Nigerians who are in Indonesian prisons and a decision can then be taken on whether or not they can be sent back to Nigeria to serve their sentences. We are waiting for the response from Jakarta. This issue was raised by your country previously when we had our bilateral meeting but the response from the institutions in Indonesia was not so clear.

Has there been records of clemency because this is not the first time Nigerians have been executed?

In January, we had two. In 2013, we had one Nigerian as well.

What are the commonest crimes committed by Nigerians in Indonesia?

Trafficking. Well, not all traffickers are sentenced for capital punishment. Only those who are drug dealers and producers or brought huge amounts of narcotic into Indonesia face the death penalty. They are aware of the consequence that if they do, they will face the death penalty.

What lessons can Nigeria learn from Indonesia in its bid for industrialization?

How we can learn from each other! Indonesians can learn many things from Nigeria. And we can also share our experiences with Nigeria. In Indonesia, our import is smaller compared to our export. We are industrializing our country, we do also invite more direct investment to Indonesia. These help not only to create jobs but also aid to transfer technology because we have the capacity to absorb; this makes many foreign companies to rely on Indonesia.