Weak judicial system allows unfair trials in Indonesia

Weak judicial system allows unfair trials in Indonesia
Photo Source: Sign engraved with “death penalty”, by Daisy Smith, via Flickr. November 29, 2017.


Yasemin Beyza Uçar

South and East Asia Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence

It is contradictory that Indonesia, a nation that highlights its support and respect for human rights, still maintains the death penalty in its criminal justice system, which leads to two significant issues:

  1. The death penalty is irreversible. If a person is executed and new evidence is found in favour of the executed person’s innocence, there is no chance to reverse the punishment. This highlights an essential issue as it means that errors within the justice system in Indonesia cannot be changed. Additionally, innocent people might face consequences for acts that have not been committed by the individual (Editorial Board).
  2. The system gives room for breakdowns of justice. A corruption of Indonesia’s justice system comes forward. It provides space for issues such as bribery, which may lead to unjust convictions and wrongful punishments of innocent people (Editorial Board). 

An example of a weak judicial system leading to an unfair trial in Indonesia:

In 2013, Yusman Telambuana was a 15-year-old child who was sentenced to death. Yusman was imprisoned in Indonesia and had very little knowledge of the Indonesian language. He was not able to speak or read during his investigation process. As a result, Yusman Telambuana was tortured in a prison cell until he was forced to agree to a false confession to make him of age. There was additionally no proper legal process, which means that Yusman’s fundamental human rights were denied (Asian Human Rights Commission). 

I was beaten by the police during the interrogation, and they said I should say yes to whatever the judge said about me so I could be released quicker” – A statement Yusman Telambuana gave to the Jakarta Post. This means that Yusman was pulled into court in 2013, where he was forced to involuntarily admit to a crime he did not do (Radhiyya Indra).

The bright side of this case is that the Human Rights Watchdog Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS) found during the examination process that Yusman was still underage. This evidence was of significant importance as it protected Yusman from the death penalty. KontraS further encouraged the government of Indonesia to have another look at its justice system (Aditya Budiman).   

Hopes are high for the abolition of the death penalty as policymakers revise the Criminal Code in Indonesia. Towards the end of 2022, the new Criminal Code (KUHP) initiated a probation phase for people on death row. This phase is initially planned to be ten years to allow people to demonstrate good behaviour, which could be rewarded with a reduction of the sentence. This new policy is prepared to be implemented in 2026 (Editorial Board).

Unfortunately, the new Criminal Code does not abolish the death penalty and does not guarantee the right to a fair trial. It is crucial to remember that, nonetheless, Indonesia is a signatory party to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which protects rights such as living free from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment (Editorial Board).

An additional note to remember is that Indonesia is one of the few countries that have not yet removed the death penalty from their justice system. 109 out of 193 Member States of the United Nations abolished the death penalty by 2022 (Editorial Board).

Sources and further readings:

Editorial Board. (2023, October 14). Killing the death penalty. The Jakarta Post. Retrieved October 18, 2023, from Killing the death penalty - Editorial - The Jakarta Post

Asian Human Rights Commission. (2018, March 9). INDONESIA: Weak Judicial System and Legal Aid Allow for Unfair Trials. Asian Human Rights Commission. Retrieved October 18, 2023, from INDONESIA: Weak Judicial System and Legal Aid Allow for Unfair Trials - Asian Human Rights Commission

Radhiyya Indra. (2023, October 14). Rights groups highlight injustices, torture in death penalty sentences. The Jakarta Post. Retrieved October 18, 2023, from Singapore executes second prisoner in three weeks (thejakartapost.com)

Aditya Budiman. (2017, August 24). Justice Minister Comments on Death Sentence of Child Convict. Tempo.co. Retrieved October 18, 2023, from Justice Minister Comments on Death Sentence of Child Convict   - En.tempo.co