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Another Day to Die

News Analysis: Are Hopes that Indonesia will Abolish the Death Penalty Premature?

(10/27/2013) The remissions of a pending death sentence against two Indonesians on death row awaiting hanging in Malaysia, has generated a ray of hope for the more than 130 Indonesians and foreigners now sitting on death row in Indonesian prisons.

Upon hearing that Heni Herawati and Indah Kumala Sarihad had their death sentences suspended, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said via his Twitter Account, “I express my thanks to the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, their lawyers and other elements of the government for their efforts and hard work.”

According to Kompas.com, the President credits efforts by agencies of the Indonesian government in freeing more than 140 Indonesians imprisoned abroad from the threat of execution.

Calling on Indonesians to always abide by the laws of their host nations, the President hopes that there will be no future cases with citizens of the Nation charged with capital crimes.

A Double Edged Sword

The President admitted that whenever Indonesian Citizens are freed from the threat of the death penalty, those countries in turn request Indonesia to also suspend the death penalty in return. “For instance, they ask me to free or reduce the punishment of foreigners threatened with the death penalty in Indonesia,” said the President in a subsequent Tweet.

In the case of Heni and Indah, the two women had their death sentence remitted after the Public Prosecutor in Kuala Lumpur withdrew drug possession charges against them. The State News Agency Antara reports that the Prosecutor’s decision was based on a legal brief filed by a lawyer engaged by the Indonesian Embassy. The Prosecutor also demanded that the two women assume the role of lead witnesses.

On the same day, Heni and Indah were called to testify before the Supreme Court after which the Chief Justice remanded them to the care of the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur in order that they could be returned to Indonesia.

The two women were arrested on January 17, 2013 in the parking lot of a starred hotel in Kuala Lumpur and charged with violations of the narcotics law.

Indonesia's Crowded Death Row

There are approximately 134 people awaiting execution in Indonesian prisons. An estimated 55 of these are foreign nationals facing the ultimate punishment for drug offenses.  Meanwhile, the number of Indonesian’s under death penalties in foreign jails may number more than 400.

The president’s Twitter statements, Indonesia's recent abstaining vote from an European Union vote against the death penalty, and statements made by senior officials - including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, suggest Indonesia may be slowly distancing itself from the death penalty.

Foreigners Awaiting a Firing Squad in Bali

Among those waiting execution in Bali are three foreign prisoners: A British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford; and Australians Myru Sukraman and Andre Chan.

All three are have exhausted an appeal process, meaning their last remaining hope of is the commutation of their sentence by the Indonesian President.

Will Pardons be Issued?

And while an apparent softening in Indonesia’s stance in favor of the death penalty weighs in their favor, a President known for his irresoluteness and the pedictable pressures to look tough on crime in the run up to an election would make a change in the fortune of those on death row a very unexpected and welcome surprise.