Decision to execute foreigners sets Indonesia apart

Indonesia MapWhile there are foreigners languishing on death row across Asia, where several countries impose the death penalty for drugs offences, it is rare for authorities to execute them.

Indonesia’s decision to put eight foreigners to death for drugs offences, all of whom are expected to face the firing squad imminently, has sparked international outrage.

Jakarta has sharply increased executions in the past two years, with President Joko Widodo a vocal supporter of executing drug traffickers, and Amnesty International says it is bucking a global trend of fewer death sentences being carried out.

According to international human rights law, the death penalty should only be applied for the most serious crimes, such as murder, but that is far from the case in Asia.

Here are several countries and territories in the region that impose the death penalty for drugs offences:

The world’s top producer of opiate drugs, Afghanistan rarely carries out executions for drug-related offenses. Law enforcement remains weak in the war-torn country, despite a multi-billion-dollar US-led campaign to crack down on booming opium production.

Bangladesh does not release figures for the number of people sentenced to death or the number of executions carried out but hundreds are believed to be on death row, including at least half a dozen opposition figures for committing atrocities during the country’s 1971 war of independence.

Brunei mandates death for drug trafficking but is not known to have carried out executions for any type of crime over the past decade, according to Amnesty International, and effectively has an unofficial moratorium in place.

China has the highest number of executions in the world, according to Amnesty International, although the number is kept a secret. It imposes the death penalty for drug traffickers and executes people by firing squad or lethal injection.

Some 278 people were on death row at the end of 2014, according to India’s Death Penalty Research Project. India carried out two hangings in 2012 and 2013, breaking an eight-year unofficial moratorium. Indian courts hand down death sentences in “rarest of rare” cases. A landmark judgement by India’s top court in 2014 commuted the death sentences of 15 convicts to life imprisonment, noting the inordinate delay in deciding their mercy pleas.

Around 140 convicts are on death row in Indonesia, including about 60 for drugs crimes. Around 30 death row drug convicts are foreigners. The group facing imminent execution is made up of eight foreigners and one Indonesian, as Jakarta seeks to demonstrate it is serious about tackling drug offences.

Widodo, who took office in October and has taken a tough line against drug traffickers, has rejected all clemency appeals for those sentenced to death on drugs charges.

Indonesia imposed a moratorium on executions between 2009 and 2012, but then resumed them in 2013. No one was executed in 2014.

However Widodo seems determined to dramatically increase the pace of executions. Jakarta has already conducted one batch this year, putting six drug convicts, including five foreigners, to death in January.

More than 900 convicts are on death row in Malaysia, according to the government, which does not publicly give out information about executions, although they are believed to be rare. Drug offences are believed to account for more than 70 percent of death-penalty convictions in the country, according to Amnesty International.

Pakistan ended a six-year moratorium on the death penalty in December 2014 as part of a crackdown on militants following a Taliban massacre at a school that left more than 150 people dead, most of them children. Since then nearly 100 convicts have gone to the gallows. Initially only those convicted of terror-related offences were hanged, but this was then widened to include all capital crimes. During the moratorium, courts continued to give out death sentences, and according to Amnesty International there are around 8,000 prisoners on death row in Pakistan. Capital crimes include murder, terrorism, drug trafficking, treason and certain types of blasphemy.

After a moratorium on the death penalty in 2012 and 2013, two drug convicts were executed in 2014, according to the latest available official data. Twenty-three people are currently on death row in the city-state, according to the government.

Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s courts routinely hand down death sentence to those convicted of crimes such as murder, rape and drug smuggling but the country has not carried out an execution since 1976, with an unofficial moratorium effectively in place. There are some 300 condemned prisoners who have exhausted all appeals and are on death row. Sri Lankan authorities have from time to time threatened to restore executions, previously carried out by hanging.

Under Taiwanese law, criminals convicted of drug offences can be sentenced to death, but in practice almost all death sentences carried out since 2003 have been for murder. There are currently 48 people on death row but none of them for drug offences, according to information offered by Taiwan’s justice ministry. The last execution related to drug offences was in 2002 for a man caught smuggling 295 kilograms (650 pounds) of heroin.

Thailand continues to keep capital punishment on its books for major drug crimes as well as treason and some terrorism and murder charges. But the death penalty is rarely carried out. As of January this year there were 649 prisoners on death row in Thailand according to the Corrections Department. The International Federation of Human Rights says the vast majority of death penalty convictions are for drug trafficking offences. The last time a prisoner was put to death was in 2009 when two men convicted of drug trafficking were executed by lethal injection.

About 70 to 80 prisoners are sentenced to death every year in Vietnam, mostly for drug-trafficking and murder. The country does not publish official statistics on the number of people sentenced to death or executions. But according to media reports and an AFP tally, there were more than 700 prisoners on death row in Vietnam. In 2014, some 50 prisoners were executed.

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