Innocents Await Firing Squad, Death Penalty Slammed
The recent news that two men sentenced to death in Sulawesi in 2006 are innocent is deeply troubling. Ruben Pata Sambo, 72, and his son, Markus Pata Sambo, were sentenced to death by the Makale District Court in Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi for the death of four people. It now appears that four other men from Tana Toraja confessed to the crime back in December 2006 and stated that Ruben and Markus were not involved. The four were sentenced and are now in prison. Yet Ruben and his son have remained in prison, facing the threat of the firing squad, for over six years.
Just last month, the Chief Prosecutor of Makale, Jaka Suparna, stated that Ruben and his son would shortly be executed because all of their appeals had been exhausted. He explained that his office was already coordinating with the High Court of South Sulawesi to arrange the execution, with the hopes of accomplishing it before the end of the year.
Indonesia has already executed four people this year but has announced plans to execute up to a total of twelve. If the Makale District Prosecutor’s Office’s statement is any indication, Ruben and Markus would likely to be among that group.
Of course, in view of what is now known about the crime, government authorities must quickly free the innocent men and provide them rehabilitation and reparations for the injustice they have suffered.
This is not the first time the wrongly condemned have come close to execution in Indonesia. Sengkon and Karta each served six years in prison before they were exonerated in 1980. And here we are, over thirty years later, watching history repeat itself.
To be fair, Indonesia has taken some steps in the right direction. A law providing free legal aid to the poor, passed in 2011, would help to protect the accused if properly funded and implemented. Yet access to defense lawyers alone will not solve the problem that led to Ruben and Markus’s convictions.
Gross judicial failures of the type that allow innocent men to get death sentences are not unique to Indonesia. This is the reason that we are seeing a global trend away from the death penalty. The only way to protect innocent victims from the death penalty is to abolish the punishment outright. More than two-thirds of the world has now abolished or halted their use of the death penalty. It is time for Indonesia to join them.
The death penalty violates our inalienable human rights, most importantly the right to life. Capital punishment is cut from the same cloth as other human rights violations, including torture and unfair trials. These rights are not only enshrined in international human rights conventions, to which Indonesia is a party, but also in our Constitution and national laws.
It is time to comply with these legal obligations by establishing a moratorium on future executions and abolishing the death penalty. This is not just a moral and legal imperative. It is a matter of life and death.
Haris Azhar is the coordinator for the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (Kontras) in Jakarta. Andrea Nieves is an American capital defense attorney and Henry Luce Scholar at Kontras.