Indonesia has sentenced dozens of prisoners to death by Zoom, or other video apps, since the start of the pandemic, in “cruel” procedures that can undermine their defense, advocates worry. rights.

The Southeast Asian country has been holding trials online since restrictions linked to the Covid-19 pandemic forced courts to drop most public hearings, especially in drug or murder cases that may result on capital punishment.

The pandemic has not slowed down the number of death sentences handed down in the archipelago, on the contrary: at least 177 people were sentenced to death in 2020, according to an Amnesty International count, against around 80 in the year previous.

In around 100 cases last year, judges only saw the faces of the accused through a screen.

Most of those condemned to death were sentenced for drug trafficking, which is very severely punished in the country which has the largest Muslim population in the world.

Many Indonesians and foreigners have already been executed for this reason.

Indonesia going against the grain

In April, 13 members of a smuggling ring, including three Iranians and one Pakistani, received death sentences, pronounced online, for transporting 400 kg of methamphetamine to Indonesia. On Wednesday, a Jakarta court sentenced six Islamist activists to death by video link for their role in prison riots in 2018 that killed five law enforcement officials. "Virtual hearings undermine the rights of defendants who risk the death penalty," laments Usman Hamid, Amesty International's director for Indonesia.

“Capital punishment has always been cruel punishment.

But this tendency (to sentence) online adds to injustice and cruelty ”.

While the number of executions and death sentences declined around the world last year, according to Amnesty's annual report released this week, Indonesia is against the grain with an increase in the number of death sentences handed down compared to in previous years.

But online hearings prevent the defendants from defending themselves in the best possible way in trials often interrupted by internet cuts, or other technical problems, underline the NGOs.

A de facto moratorium on death sentences

“Virtual platforms (…) present the risk of significant violations of the right to a fair trial and weigh on the quality of their defense,” notes the NGO Harm Reduction International in a recent report on death sentences for drug trafficking. Lawyers have complained that they were unable to speak to their clients because of virus restrictions. And the families of the accused have often been prevented from attending hearings, which are normally open to the public. "These virtual hearings are clearly to the detriment of the accused," notes Indonesian lawyer Dedi Setiadi.

Little data is available on the number of death sentences handed down online worldwide.

But Indonesia stands out for many of these awards.

Singapore, where drug trafficking and murder are punishable by death, has handed down at least one death sentence online by hanging since the start of the pandemic.

Indonesia has not carried out an execution since 2016, applying a de facto moratorium, but its justice system continues to hand down death sentences by the dozen each year.


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