Govt makes last-minute efforts to save Indian on death row in Indonesia

  • Rezaul H Laskar, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 28, 2016 20:25 IST
Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj arrives in Parliament during the monsoon session. (PTI file)

New Delhi has mounted last minute efforts to save Indian national Gurdip Singh, who is among 14 people set to be executed in Indonesia after midnight on Thursday.

Jakarta is going ahead with the executions despite condemnation from rights groups such as Amnesty International and appeals from the European Union and India, which sent a note verbal to the Indonesian foreign ministry requesting that “all legal recourse should be exhausted before the death penalty is carried out”.

In a statement, Attorney General M Prasetyo said the executions of the death row inmates would be conducted early on Friday. He said all technical and legal aspects of the executions had been fulfilled.

The Jakarta Post quoted a source in the Central Java Prosecutor’s Office as saying that the executions of the “drug convicts” will take place after midnight on Thursday.

In a tweet late on Wednesday night, Swaraj said: “We are making last minute efforts to save him (Singh) from execution on 28 July.” She said in another tweet Singh was “facing death sentence in a drug case”.

External affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said Singh’s counsel Afdhal Muhammad was of the view that he could file for presidential clemency. Indian embassy officials were camping in Cilacap city, where the executions will be carried out, and have met Singh.

“They are reaching out to the foreign office and the senior leadership in Indonesia. They are also in constant touch with his wife and brother in India and keeping them informed of the current situation,” Swarup said.

Singh, 48, was found guilty of trying to smuggle 300 grams of heroin into Indonesia in 2004 and was sentenced to death by a state district court at Tanggerang in Banten province in February 2005.

He was given the death sentence even though prosecutors had recommended a 20-year jail term for Singh, who is also known as Vishal and belongs to Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh.

Singh also retracted a statement he made against Pakistani national Zulfiqar Ali, who is among the prisoners facing execution. Singh admitted he was coerced into making the false admission against Ali in return for a lenient sentence for himself.

His appeals against the death penalty were turned down by Banten high court and the Supreme Court.

Despite appeals by the EU and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, Indonesia appeared set to go ahead with the executions. Reports in the Indonesia media said there is little chance of the 14 condemned people escaping the firing squad since the Attorney General’s Office had confirmed that all legal requirements had been fulfilled.

The executions will take place in Nusakambangan prison island in Cilacap, Central Java, where authorities have tightened security by deploying an additional 1,500 police personnel and army and navy units. The soldiers are guarding a nearby dock and naval personnel are patrolling waters surrounding the prison island.

Seventeen ambulances, 14 of which carried coffins, arrived at the prison island on Thursday morning, The Jakarta Post reported. This was seen as a signal that the executions would be conducted soon. “It has been a long-standing tradition on Nusakambangan that ambulances are readied to pick up bodies of the condemned from the prison less than 24 hours before the executions,” the report said.

According to Indonesia law, each convict will be shot to death by a squad of 10 people.

Amnesty International criticised Indonesia’s decision to go ahead with the execution of 10 foreigners and four Indonesians, saying some of them were “convicted in manifestly unfair trials and have not submitted clemency request to the President”.

Among the foreigners are a Zimbabwean, a Senegalese, a South African and five Nigerians.

“Indonesian President Joko Widodo, popularly known as ‘Jokowi’, will be putting his government on the wrong side of history if he proceeds with a fresh round of executions,” Amnesty said in a statement.

In a report published last year, Amnesty had found 12 of the prisoners were “denied access to legal counsel at the time of their arrest, and at different periods thereafter”. Some claimed they were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment while in police custody, and were forced to “confess” to their alleged crimes. These claims have not been investigated by authorities, it said

The last executions in Indonesia – which has some of the world’s toughest anti-drug laws – were carried out in January and April 2015, when a total of 14 people were put to death by firing squad. The previous administration under Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono carried out 21 executions between 2005 and 2013.

Indonesia has a strong record of fighting for the rights of its citizens abroad on death row but that is a position the authorities do not consistently uphold at home, where President Widodo has claimed the death penalty is needed to deter drug crime, Amnesty said.

“There is no evidence to support President Widodo’s position. The death penalty does not deter crime. Carrying out executions will not rid Indonesia of drugs. It is never the solution, and it will damage Indonesia’s standing in the world,” said Josef Benedict, deputy director of Amnesty’s Southeast Asia and Pacific regional office.

Reacting to the calls for clemency, Indonesia’s foreign ministry asked other countries to respect its law. “The death penalty is carried out by law enforcement and we reiterate that the death penalty is not contrary to international law,” spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said.

“Just like Indonesia which always respects the laws of other countries, we hope other countries also respect our law.”

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