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Politics

Bluster after Indonesia executions

JAKARTA -- Indonesia's execution of seven foreign drug traffickers, despite repeated calls for clemency, has strained its diplomatic relations with the prisoners' countries. Jakarta's decision not to back down under pressure from friendly nations' opposition to its capital punishment has left it in a position that will have repercussions over the coming weeks.

    Australia reacted by recalling its ambassador to Indonesia, although Prime Minister Tony Abbott later sought to minimize negative impacts on the bilateral relationship.

The executions were carried out on April 29 by a firing squad shortly after midnight in Nusa Kambangan, a prison island in central Java. Two Australians, four Nigerians, one Brazilian and one Indonesian were executed.

   Australian Prime Minister Abbott said in a press conference on April 29 that the executions were "cruel and unnecessary." The two condemned Australians had been imprisoned for more than a decade and were as "rehabilitated and reformed as two people can possibly be," said Abbott.

   The Brazilian government said in a statement that it was "shocked" by the news. This marked the second execution of a Brazilian by Indonesia in three months. The South American nation said it was evaluating ties with Indonesia before deciding on further action, as it had already recalled its ambassador to Jakarta after the first execution earlier this year.

   The executions also drew criticism from the broader international community. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his deep regret and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement calling for a death penalty moratorium in Indonesia.

Philippine reprieve

Meanwhile, one of the prisoners set to be executed, a Philippine national, Mary Jane Veloso, was unexpectedly granted a last minute delay. The Indonesian Attorney-General's office said the reprieve was due to a request from the Philippine government, which said her testimony is needed for human trafficking trials in the country involving a Philippine perpetrator who had surrendered on April 28 to the police there. Veloso claims to have been duped by the perpetrator and others into carrying drugs.

   "The Philippine government thanks [Indonesian] President [Joko] Widodo and the Indonesian government for giving due consideration to President [Benigno] Aquino's appeal that Veloso be given a reprieve," Herminio Coloma, a spokesperson for Aquino, said on April 29.

   In response to criticisms from governments such as Australia, President Widodo defended the decision. "This is the rule of our law," he told local media after the execution, calling for countries to "respect the sovereignty of our laws." He made it clear that the execution of Veloso has not been canceled, but merely suspended.

   Drug abuse has become a serious social problem in Indonesia and harsh penalties appear to be largely supported by its citizens. "For drugs, I support the death penalty," a male taxi driver in Jakarta said. "Drugs destroy the lives of children and their families. Those crimes should not be forgiven."

    Hikmahanto Juwana, an international law professor at the University of Indonesia, said, "Widodo's decision will strengthen his domestic support because the public has been disgusted with drug-related crimes."

No serious impact

The impact of the execution on Indonesia's relations with Australia will not be serious, Juwana said. "The government of Australia wanted to show to their public that they are doing everything they can," he said. "But they will not risk relations with Indonesia as there are too many stakes."

    Earlier this year, Widodo himself had expressed optimism about Indonesia's relationship with Australia to the Nikkei Asian Review. "There is no problem. On the economic front, Australia is a good friend," he said.

    After Indonesia's ambassador to Australia on April 30 expressed sympathy for the families of the nation's two executed men, Prime Minister Abbott said: "It's a sign that in time the good and strong friendship between Australia and Indonesia can be resumed." How the two governments overcome this issue remains to be seen.

Nikkei staff writers Kaori Takahashi in Sydney and Cliff Venzon in Manila contributed to this article.

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