In Plato’s text, ‘Crito’, a conversation is had between Socrates and his friend Crito through Athenian prison bars. Crito had bribed the guards and had come to rescue Socrates from an unjust punishment. The conversation progresses to Socrates claiming that even though his sentence was unjust, he had accepted the laws of the state by choosing to live there and therefore must accept the subsequent punishment, for who was he to be above the law.
Although this story is set in a different age, it still has principles that readily translate to the situation of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. Importantly, both situations contend with the principle of ‘rule of law’ which is one of the cornerstones of modern democratic justice systems. Put simply, it ensures that the law shall be applied equally to all the subjects of a region and no one person is above it.
In the unfortunate case we are now seeing with these two men, the principle of rule of law (and Socrates) would dictate that the men knowingly broke the law and must in turn respect the judgement handed to them as it has to many others. If clemency were granted and the men saved from their punishment on the decision of the President, that decision would differ from the laws and judgement applied to others and Indonesia would see the rule of law squandered.
Present circumstances considered, one could then easily assert that they must face their punishment and any alternative would be against all notions of a just judicial system.
The execution of these men however is wrong, and not just as a result of the distinct humanitarian issues. From a criminological point of view, punishment is enacted to provide four main goals. Deterrence, safety, rehabilitation, and restitution. The death penalty arguably doesn’t effectively achieve any of these outcomes. Deterrence both specific (the offender) and general (wider population) is often the one most widely discussed. Yes, executing someone will deter them from doing it again, and on paper it will scare off potential offenders from committing similar crimes. Reality however tells a different story. From a purely pragmatic point of view, convicted criminals can actually become more useful as a deterrent if they are given the opportunity to become spokespeople against the crimes they committed. Indeed, Evidence has pointed to the effectiveness of utilising reformed criminals in programs which attempt to educate and dissuade potential future offenders. Indonesia itself has experienced the benefit of this process through the work of deradicalised extremists who have gone on to assist the police by either apprehending or deradicalising others.
In terms of providing security to the nation and protecting them from crime, execution is again an imperfect option. The possibility that reformed offenders would be able to influence those around them and help reduce a larger group of potential offenders from committing crime, indicates the wider security of the nation would benefit by letting the men live.
Another key goal of punishment is the need for reformation. This is admittedly one of the harder aspects to achieve and many justice systems, (including our own) still struggle with it as seen with high rates of reoffending. Regardless of the difficulties in enacting effective rehabilitation policy, it is still the ideal end scenario, whereby an offender changes their ways and eventually become productive members of society. One undisputed fact though is that the death penalty annuls all possibility of rehabilitation.
Having assessed some of the key flaws in the death penalty it is important to note the interests of both sides to try and understand why it exists in the first place. The drug trade has profound and devastating effects worldwide and Indonesia is not immune to the evils it brings with it. The government has a responsibility to protect its people and enact laws that ensure the safety of the nation, so by all means have the right to enforce strict laws that they believe will reduce crime and help society. In theory, to achieve restitution for a crime that hurts so many and indeed results in significant deaths it is understandable that the death penalty is a proportionate punishment.
We can subsequently see the varied thought processes and theories for and against the death penalty being used in this situation. With this perspective of an outside observer one could then create a solid interpretation of the most appropriate step forward. Firstly, a deep respect must be given for the laws of a sovereign nation who has the right and responsibility to ensure the safety of their citizens. Effective or not, these laws exist for a reason and upon entering Indonesia an agreement to follow them is initiated. Having accepted the validity of the laws it is still important to recognise their flaws from both a humanitarian and academic point of view. A constructive movement from here would then be to advocate for the abolishment of the death penalty worldwide as it is both shown to be ineffective and inhumane. To simply pressure Jokowi alone for the staying of two Australians executions is hypocritical in that it neglects the wider issue and risks alienating a valuable international relationship while achieving minimal short-term gains.
A potentially more suitable response would be to actually extend the aid Australia gives to Indonesia and draw on the respected members of the Australian criminological and judicial communities to assist Indonesia in creating a system that would have the most effective long term crime reduction effects. No sovereign nation will appreciate being pressured by another, least of all a highly nationalistic Indonesia, but through assistance, aid and respectful diplomacy, situations like this can be minimised or even become productive.
Jaidan Stevens is a Masters in Strategic Studies student at the Australian National University. He is a graduate of the University of Sydney, where he completed a Bachelor of Socio-Legal Studies with a major in Indonesian Studies in 2014 and has traveled extensively throughout Indonesia. He is a member of the Australian-Indonesian Association, and the Australian-Indonesian Youth Association, groups which attempt to strengthen the bilateral relationship.