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    Capital punishment in Indonesia

    Bali 9Indonesia should be ashamed of itself for executing two Australians as well as a few others.* It is not that the people who were executed were lily white. Indonesia has processes of law which led to their sentencing. No-one denies the Indonesian right to have strict laws and stern penalties. But having to resort to putting people to death is monstrous and unethical and brings no credit to those responsible.

    It doesn’t help to tell us that capital punishment was part of Biblical criminal law. Those who had the responsibility for implementing this law surrounded it with so many ifs and buts that it lost its sting. One view was, “A court which put a person to death once in seven years was bloodthirsty”. Another view said, “Once in seventy years”. Two of the greatest rabbinic sages said, “Had we been members of the court no-one would ever have been put to death” (Mishnah Makkot).

    This latter view was not uncontested. Its opponents said, “They (the abolitionists) would increase the shedders of blood in Israel”. But there are other ways of achieving the purpose which the Bible says is to make people “hear and fear”.

    The convicted person can be punished, and the community warned, without a death penalty but by means of harsh imprisonment.

    What does a death penalty say about the court? Like the person whose fate is in their hands, they are human beings. The question hanging over their heads is, “Who says your blood is redder than his?”

    There is no doctrine of the infallibility of the judicial bench. It is always possible that a court can make a mistake, and once the accused is dead there is nothing that can be done. This must not be taken as accusing the Indonesian court of making a mistake, but no court can or should play God.

    The ancient discussions were especially concerned with dealing with murders. In Indonesia the problem is the serious crime of drug-trafficking. In some ways it is as bad as murder because its effect is also to destroy lives.

    It is not that the drug-trafficker is necessarily out for revenge or sadistic. He wants financial advantage. He will tell you that it’s not his fault that people want drugs; he claims that he is simply supplying a need. Who is he deceiving – himself? He deserves to be handled harshly and his potential victims need to be helped through a tough time.

    But the death penalty doesn’t solve the problem and it is flawed in itself.

    * 29 April 2015

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