'Jokowi' and his firing squads
July-September 2015
By: Dave McRae
A flower with a message to President Joko Widodo is tied to the main gate of the Indonesian consulate in Sidney on the day of the execution of seven foreign drug convicts in April.

The ramping up of executions by the Joko administration could not have happened without a pro-death penalty president. But Joko’s views are only part of the story. The executions reflect a coincidence of interests between a state agency that has always pushed for executions, a controversial new attorney general looking to prove himself and a new president seeking quick wins.

Under successive presidents, Indonesia’s National Narcotics Agency (BNN) has been one of the principal advocates for capital punishment for drug offenses, arguing that the scale of the country’s problem necessitates using the death penalty. As the agency responsible for preventing and investigating narcotics crimes, BNN has long criticized Indonesia’s courts for handing down so few death sentences and complained about government “sluggishness” in executing drug convicts. To bolster its case, the narcotics agency has commissioned research on drug-related fatalities and the prevalence of drug use, and on this basis pushes the message that there’s a drug emergency.

The agency’s entreaties gained little traction under Joko’s predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The key exception came in 2013, when BNN embarrassed Yudhoyono into resuming executions after a four-year moratorium after rearresting a death row drug convict whom the president had granted clemency. Even this episode was a limited success for the narcotics agency, as only two drug convicts were put before the firing squad during the remainder of Yudhoyono’s presidency. Overall, only four of the 21 people executed during the Yudhoyono administration were drug convicts.

When Joko took office, the narcotics agency applied pressure almost immediately, with BNN head Anang Iskandar telling journalists that his office had written to the Attorney General's Office calling for all drug convicts on death row to be executed. Coming 10 days after Joko’s inauguration, however, this gained little public attention.

Yet even more important to the spike in executions than BNN has been HM Prasetyo, whom Joko appointed as attorney general one month into his presidential term. A former senior prosecutor, Prasetyo was a controversial choice because he was a senior member of a political party that was part of the governing coalition, and was chided as a political appointee. Needing rapid results to silence his critics, Prasetyo became the leading government official pushing to execute drug convicts as soon as possible.

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