CILACAP, Indonesia – Indonesia rebuffed appeals from distraught relatives, rights advocates and foreign governments to abandon plans to execute 14 people for drug crimes as preparations intensified at the prison island holding death row inmates.
A convoy of ambulances, most of them carrying coffins, arrived Thursday morning at the port town nearest to the Nusa Kambangan prison island, where the mostly foreign drug convicts will be executed by firing squads. Officials began tightening security at the prison several days ago, with more than 1,000 police sent to Cilacap, the port town, and the island.
The European Union and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights called on Indonesia to impose an immediate moratorium on executions and the Indian and Pakistani governments said they were making urgent efforts to save two nationals among the condemned.
READ MORE: UN human rights office calls Indonesia executions ‘incomprehensible’
Indonesia has not released an official list of those to be executed but the country’s attorney-general said 14 people would be put to death. Community Legal Aid Institute, which is involved in some of the death row cases, has given names for four Indonesians, six Nigerians, two Zimbabweans, one Indian and one Pakistani.
Lawyers and rights groups have raised serious doubts about the legitimacy of the convictions in several drug cases, including that of Pakistani Zulfikar Ali, Indonesian Merri Utami and Nigerian Humphrey Jefferson.
But Muhammad Rum, a spokesman for Indonesia’s attorney-general, said the executions are the “implementation of our positive laws” and will not be delayed or stopped. All the cases have gone through a long legal process including appeals, he said. “They all have been given chances at all stages.” The foreign ministry also defended the use of capital punishment and the legal process.
In Cilacap, the sister-in-law of Michael Titus, a Nigerian sentenced to death, said his Indonesian wife was returning to Indonesia from West Africa in the hope she would be able to see him a final time. “We will keep fighting to seek justice for our family,” said the relative, Nila, who used one name. “Michael is not alone. He has a wife, kids.”
READ MORE: Indonesia executes 8 for drug offences, leading to international outrage
From Pakistan, a sister of Ali made an emotional appeal to the Indonesian authorities to review his case. Family members said the Indonesian government had arranged a final meeting between Ali and his wife and mother, who travelled to Indonesia.
“My brother is not a drug smuggler. I swear he is innocent,” said Sajida Bibi. “I want to see my brother alive,” she sobbed. “Don’t send his body to us.”
Justice Project Pakistan, a group that provides free legal representation, said Ali’s confession following his arrest in November 2004 was obtained by police torture. It said his case has not been properly reviewed by Indonesian authorities despite an internal government investigation casting doubt on the conviction for drug trafficking.
The Indonesian government says the death penalty is necessary for drug crimes because the country is facing a drug epidemic, particularly affecting young people. But critics argue capital punishment is not an effective deterrent and some have also questioned the accuracy of the government’s drug abuse statistics.
It would be the third set of executions under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who campaigned on promises to improve human rights. His 2-year-old administration will have executed more people than were executed in the previous decade. Fourteen were put to death last year.
READ MORE: Indonesia ignores protests, approves executions of 9 foreigners
Cap. Bintoro Wasono, a Cilacap police spokesman, said two burial sites, one for Muslims and the other for Christians, have been prepared for inmates whose bodies would not be taken by their families.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement he’s “deeply concerned” by death penalty cases in Indonesia that lack transparency and compliance with the right to a fair trial, including the right to an appeal.
The EU called on Indonesia to “consider joining the wide community of over 140 states that have abolished the death penalty entirely or have adopted a moratorium.”
The government of Jokowi’s predecessor did not carry out executions between 2009 and 2012, but resumed them in 2013.
Worldwide, China is believed to the country with the highest number of executions but it does not release figures. Amnesty International estimates several thousand people are executed in China each year. Of the more than 1,600 publicly announced executions last year, Amnesty says nearly 90 per cent of them were in three countries: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran.
Wright reported from Jakarta. Associated Press writers Munir Ahmed in Islamabad, Pakistan, and Ali Kotarumalos and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta contributed to this report.