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Human Rights

Are We Funding the Death Penalty?

pic for articleBy Elsa Crowther, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy.  In Indonesia, the death penalty has been avoided as much as possible in the Post-Shuarto Era, which may explain why the implementation of the death penalty in the case of Lindsay Sandiford, a 56 year-old grandmother from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, UK, came as a surprise to many. The death penalty hasn’t been allocated in Indonesia since 2008, and since the end of dictator Shuarto’s regime in 1998,  it has been used as a punishment method on less that 25 occasions. The Post-Shuarto Era in Indonesia has been defined by a more open and liberal political-social environment after three decades of the Shuarto New Order period, that was known for censorship and political repression.

Mrs. Sandiford was arrested at Bali airport in May last year after 4.8 kg of cocaine were found in the lining of her suitcase. Mrs. Sandiford’s defence pointed out that she had been coerced into trafficking the drugs following threats directed towards her. After being arrested, Mrs. Sandiford cooperated with Indonesian police forces, revealing information that led to the arrest of several other members of the gang she was working for including Julian Ponder and his partner Rachel Dougall, who have been described to be ‘the King and Queen of Bali’ due to their extravagant lifestyle that it seems they were able to afford due to their drug business. She appeared in the Indonesian court Lepas Denpasar several times in the period from September last year to January, her lawyers pleading for leniency due to her cooperation, and the prosecution agreeing that the sentence should be of 15 years, rather than the mandatory death sentence that is carried out in the event of drug trafficking. Later in January, her lawyer pleaded for a reduction in the 15 year sentence due to her having been coerced into trafficking the cocaine as her son was being threatened back in Britain; however, Mrs. Sandiford, her lawyer and even the prosecution were stunned by the death sentence that was delivered on January 22nd, 2013.

British human rights charity Reprieve, which has been assisting Mrs. Sandiford for the last few months after she revealed that she did not possess the funds to pay for her own lawyer, urged the Government to support the appeal she made against the verdict. However, the judges have said there are no mitigating circumstances in Sandiford’s case, and that the defendant did not seem to care about the consequences of her actions. At the same time, there are numerous accounts from Mrs. Sandiford’s neighbours in Cheltenham that describe her as “not a nice neighbour”, pointing out that her rented property was always “in disorder” and that she did not react well to pressure from her neighbours to do something about the state of her front garden. Mrs. Sandiford’s ex-colleagues in the UK described her as “an intelligent women, who knew the consequences of trafficking drugs in South East Asia”, which doesn’t play well into her defence.

Turning to another aspect of the Sandiford case, allocating the death sentence to a British citizen may carry with it consequences for Indonesia in many regards. The danger of being arrested and sentenced to death for a crime one may or may not have done out of one’s own will, will surely affect Indonesia’s attraction as a tourist destination whilst tourism is currently one of Indonesia’s prime sources of income. Simultaneously, diplomatic relations between the UK and Indonesia have suffered due to the court’s decision, especially as Mrs. Sandiford was held for ten days without a lawyer or translator after her arrest, and the Indonesian authorities also failed to inform the British Embassy of her situation. British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has urged Indonesia not to execute Mrs. Sandiford, describing the decision as “unwarranted” because it is “an excessive punishment”, and requesting that the court take into account the violations of Mrs. Sandiford’s fundamental rights during her confinement in Indonesian prison, that include threats with a gun and sleep deprivation. Another fact that raises concern about Mrs. Sandiford’s case is the absence of immediate consular notification of her detainment, as well as the absence of legal representation and a translator during the period of detention. In a document released by Foreign Secretary Hague, it is also pointed out that her execution would entail diplomatic repercussions, although these have not been specified.

All in all, it is an interesting case as it is clear that it brings to the forefront some of the basic differences between the British and Indonesian legal system. The reactions of the British population have also been interesting to follow, opinions being divided amongst those saying that Mrs. Sandiford is being treated harshly and those that agree with the death sentence for drug trafficking.

In this context, it is also of interest to examine the work done by British charity Reprieve, which is assisting Mrs. Sandiford in her case. The charity, which has recently celebrated its tenth anniversary, has been ‘promoting the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial’ and concentrates on providing legal support for prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. The charity focuses on cases involving the world’s most powerful governments, especially those that should be upholding the highest standards when it comes to fair trials. The organization has offices in London, the USA and Pakistan, as well as numerous volunteers around the world. Reprieve’s founder, Clive Stafford Smith, has been helping the less fortunate when it comes to trials since he graduated from Law School in New York, and has represented over 300 prisoners facing the death penalty in Southern United States, and has prevented the death of all but 6 of his ‘clients’, a 98% “victory” rate.

Reprieve has also been concentrating on prisoners at Guantánamo Bay prison, having helped in securing the release of 65 prisoners, as well as looking into the case of secret detention sites in Afghanistan and the United States military base on the British island of Diego Garcia. A browse through the charity’s website gives a glimpse of just how many people are currently on the death row away from their home country. In many cases, these people originate from states where the death penalty no longer exists, opening up the question as to whether it is ethical to apply the death penalty in these cases, or in fact if they are any different from cases of nationals that have been sentenced to death in their country of origin. The charity, that has been shortlisted for the Charitytimes Awards in 2001 amongst many others, also runs a “Life after Guantánamo” project that follows up on the treatment of prisoners at their home institutions.

The case of Khadija Shah, a 25 year old British mother who was arrested in Islamabad airport in May 2012, has also been taken over by Reprieve. Khadija was heavily pregnant when she was arrested and incarcerated with her two children of four and six that were only released four and a half months later to go back to the UK into the care of their grandmother. Khadija herself was let out of prison for just one day to give birth to her third baby and then immediately returned to infamous Adiala Jail in Pakistan, that is known for its dangerously “unhygienic conditions” and recently saw a serious outbreak of TB. Accused of drug offences, Khadija Shah has been refused bail and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Reprieve also runs a project called Stop Aid for Executions (SAFE) that points out the amount of British tax payer’s money that directly or indirectly funds execution policies in developing countries –  an example being the case of Iran, where UK taxpayers have effectively funded executions in Iran through £3.6 million in aid used to fight the flow of drugs into Europe. Iran is historically the leading recipient of UK anti-drugs assistance, but reports by Reprieve have found that links between aid and executions were “not hard to establish”. With more that 1,200 people having been executed in Iran between 2007 and 2011 for drug offences and a total of 12,000 since 1979, it is important to review that European funding for anti-drug campaigns does not lead to people being executed, although a Foreign Office spokesman said that the UK, along with several UN bodies, is ensuring that counter-narcotics projects comply with international human rights guidelines.

However, in the case of countries with low transparency, it is often difficult to trace what money received in the form of aid is actually funding activities that do not comply with international human rights guidelines. This also opens the question of how, or even whether, aid should be given to countries with completely different legal and moral systems that have different ways of dealing with people who have broken the law. On the other hand, as drugs become more dangerous due to new chemical compositions and at the same time accessible all over the world, it is easy to understand the concerns governments are raising as to the easy flow of drugs in a globalized world. It is also important not to forget local people sentenced to death for drug smuggling or trafficking who do not have as much support as foreigners. At the end of the day, it is the consumption of drugs in the Western world that is fuelling the increase in drug trafficking cases.

Center for Cultural Diplomacy Studies Publication
Institute for Cultural Diplomacy


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