Imagine being mentally ill in a foreign country where you are being imprisoned for a crime that you committed. You are never given a proper translator, so you cannot properly follow the legal process. And just when you thought you are going to languish in jail for the rest of your life, you are told that you will you will be executed in a few minutes.
That was what happened to Brazilian national Rodrigo Gularte, who was found guilty for drug trafficking in Indonesia in 2004 and executed in 2015. Language barrier (he was provided with an English translator, while he barely spoke the language) was one of the reasons that Gularte, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, was not aware that he was facing capital punishment until minutes before his execution.
But he is not the only death row inmate whose legal procedures does not follow proper standard. A researched conducted by the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) shows that many of the capital punishment cases in Indonesia have not gone through fair trial.
“Indonesia still has not implemented the international standard of a fair trial. The rights to fair trial of people sentenced with death penalty are still not guaranteed in Indonesia’s legal system,” Eka Ari Pramuditya, an ICJR researcher said during a public seminar held earlier this week in Jakarta.
Published in January 2018, the research titled “Seeking Vulnerable Justice: Death Penalty and Fair Trial Implementation in Indonesia,” compares the trials of crimes that ended with death penalty in Indonesia to the standard of international law on human rights. Most death penalty cases involve illegal drugs trafficking or terrorism cases.
The international standard on human rights requires the court to provide a defendant facing death penalty with “competent” and “professional” translator and attorney. But according to the ICJR’s research, this is not always the case in Indonesia. Although the national law stipulates the provision of a translator and an attorney, it does not specify their quality or competency. Because of these, many defendants like Gularte have been denied proper anda much-needed services that would have helped them in the legal process.
“In our research, it was uncovered that out of 118 people sentenced to death in 1997 to 2016, only 15 were assigned a lawyer who actually pleaded sentence commute for their clients,” Ari said during his presentation. Many of the lawyers barely did anything to defend their clients.
“In fact, in a case involving a man named Yusman, the lawyer assigned to him agreed that he deserved the death penalty,” he added.
Another crucial issue in the legal process of those facing death penalty is the police’s use of intimidation and force to gain confession out of the defendants. Although Indonesia officially bans the use of force in extracting information in a criminal case, the law remains vague, thus open to interpretation.
“Eleven out of twelve convicts have reported the use of force and intimidation during their interrogation,” Ari said. “This happens because the national law does not explicitly state what is considered as force during interrogation.”
He cited the case of a man named Zainul, who had been forced by the police during the interrogation, leading to his giving a false confession. When questioned in trial whether force was applied, the police were dismissive, saying it did not matter because he was under oath.
“The judge did not seem bothered by this and accepted the confession,” said Ari.
Also, the international legal standard explicitly limit these groups of people from death penalty: children under eighteen, pregnant women, people with learning disabilities/problems with mental health, new mothers, and the elderly. Currently there is no Indonesian law that complies with this standard, except the restriction of children under eighteen from facing capital punishment. But even then, Ari said that some children under-18 continue to be sentenced to death in Indonesia because of sloppy paper works.
“The government should work to synchronize the national laws with the international laws, strengthen the monitoring process of the court system particularly in death penalty cases, and increase the competency of law enforces to ensure defendants’ rights to fair trials are protected,” he said.