Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has released five political prisoners in Papua over the weekend, mere weeks after failing to show the same generosity to eight drug smugglers who have been executed by firing squad.
Jokowi, president since October of 2014, has expressed intent to halt human rights abuses in Papua, where separatist ideals run high. The release of the prisoners, charged with an attack on the military that resulted in the death of two soldiers, also coincided with an announcement finally allowing foreign journalists access to Papua, one of the most isolated regions on the planet. Both of these acts are likely intended as an olive branch to the international community, which has been noticeably angered by Indonesia’s decision to carry out the executions of the drug smugglers, seven of which were foreign nationals.
Of these, the two Australians are receiving the bulk of the coverage around the world, already revealing a bias in favour of Westerners. Indonesia is one of several countries that hand out the death penalty, and as barbaric as the practice is, it should not be seen as any worse there than in the United States, China, or even Nigeria, where four of the victims hailed from.
The fact that they were executed for drug offences may instead be the source of condemnation, but one has to realize that Indonesia is currently facing a drug problem of epidemic proportions. “Every day 50 young Indonesians die” from drug use, as stated by President Jokowi in his defence of the executions. Thus drug trafficking remains a capital crime, and Indonesia has the sovereign right to execute anyone found guilty of it.
However having the right is not the same as being right, and the death penalty should not be acceptable in Indonesia, or anywhere else where human rights are paramount.