Bioethics News

Indonesian executions spark death penalty debate

Bali Nine drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran    

A number of botched executions in the US have helped revive the debate over the death penalty. But the discussion isn’t confined to the US alone. Across the Pacific, Indonesia has come under intense scrutiny for its decision to execute two Australian nationals convicted of drug smuggling.

The two men – ringleaders of a group known as the Bali 9 – were sentenced to death by an Indonesian court in 2009. On Friday they were transported to an execution facility on the Indonesia Island of Nusakambangan in central Java.

The case has drawn attention to what some have described as the ‘cruel’ and ‘inhumane’ method of execution used in Indonesia – a firing squad. Indonesian police follow a precise procedure. Prisoners are dressed in white with an x marked on their heart, and then taken to a field, where they are tied to a black cross or post. 

Twelve guards line up to shoot the prisoners, but only three have loaded bullets. On a command of the leader of the firing squad – “do it” – the guards fire. Prisoners have been known to take up to ten minutes to die after being shot.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has labelled the punishment a “disproportionate use of force” and a “cruel and degrading treatment”. Australian Prime-Minister Tony Abbott expressed similar sentiments: “We deplore the death penalty, we deplore drug crime, but we deplore the death penalty, particularly for people who have been so thoroughly rehabilitated.”

It is, however, unlikely that the Indonesian government will grant clemency to the men.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.