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Indonesia's president Joko Widodo took office just over a hundred days ago amid expectations for political reform and human rights. But Jokowi, as he is often known there, has taken an unexpectedly strong stand in favor of the death penalty. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Jakarta that this has dismayed some Indonesian human rights advocates, foreign governments and one very loud heavy metal band.
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Jokowi brought hope to many Indonesians because he's different. He's not a military strongman or powerbroker like his predecessors. Instead, he was a mayor with a solid track record of providing urban services. He's promised accountability for the human rights abuses under General Suharto's military dictatorship, which ended in 1998. And, he's a fan of heavy metal music. One of his favorite bands is the U.K. group Napalm Death. They sound like this.
(SOUNDBITE OF NAPALM DEATH SONG)
KUHN: Napalm Death's music is known as grindcore. Jokowi has been photographed wearing black Napalm Death T-shirts and flashing devil's horns hand signs. Some of his supporters were surprised last month when Indonesia executed six convicted drug traffickers, including five foreigners, by firing squad. Jokowi has refused all appeals for clemency, and Brazil and the Netherlands recalled their ambassadors from Indonesia in protest. So far, Jokowi has also ignored appeals from Napalm Death's front man Mark Greenway, who wrote a letter to Jokowi suggesting he scrap the death penalty. Greenway says his message was this.
MARK GREENWAY: Capital punishment is revenge culture, you know, it's not justice culture. And I think it doesn't break the cycle of violence, whether it's from the state or an individual.
KUHN: He also called on Jokowi to spare a couple of Australians and a British grandmother now on death row for smuggling drugs onto the resort island of Bali. President Jokowi claims that drugs are killing up to 50 Indonesians a day and he intends to show no mercy in his war on drugs. But Andreas Harsono, a researcher with the group Human Rights Watch, says the accuracy of that statistic is suspect, as is Jokowi's approach to the drug problem.
ANDREAS HARSONO: It's easier for him to execute these foreign drug traffickers who are basically, you know, a weak person - they are not the drug barons - rather than dealing with legal reform.
KUHN: That includes tackling official corruption, which is a factor in Indonesia's drug problem. Rafendi Djamin represents Indonesia on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights. He argues that corruption raises the possibility of fatal miscarriages of justice.
RAFENDI DJAMIN: There are very serious flaws in our judiciary. We are still working on it. And with this flawed judiciary, you believe that you are not, you know, killing the wrong people. This is the tragedy of our society now.
KUHN: Rafendi admits the majority of Indonesians support the death penalty, but he adds that Indonesia has been moving fitfully towards a moratorium on the death penalty.
DJAMIN: We are joining the international community who are thinking seriously in becoming a human civilized world to actually eliminate the death penalty as a form of punishment.
KUHN: All of this has led to a bizarre situation in which a grindcore growler is appealing to a head-banging head of state to spare the life of a grandmother convicted of drug running. Napalm Death's Mark Greenway happens to be a vegetarian and animal rights advocate. He growls out lyrics criticizing social injustice. But, he says he's aware that not all his fans share the band's ethos.
GREENWAY: And so that's where it becomes slightly difficult because obviously you can't force people to go one way or another, you know, you can only try and appeal to their human side, if you like.
KUHN: Quite a few lives are at stake. There are 133 people on Indonesia's death row, 57 of them convicted of drug crimes. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Jakarta.
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