Amnesty says nearly 100 inmates have been virtually convicted by judges since the beginning of last year.
Indonesia sentenced several prisoners to death for Zoom and other video apps during the coronavirus pandemic in what critics say is an “inhumane” insult to those facing the firing squad.
The Southeast Asian nation has turned to virtual court hearings as COVID-19 restrictions have closed most in-person trials, including murder and drug trafficking cases, which can lead to the death penalty.
Since the beginning of last year, nearly 100 inmates have been sentenced to death in Indonesia by judges they could only see on a television screen, according to Amnesty International.
The Muslim-majority nation has some of the toughest drug laws in the world and both Indonesian and foreign traffickers have been executed, including the masterminds of Australia’s Bali Nine heroin gang.
This month, 13 members of a trafficking ring, including three Iranians and a Pakistani, learned via video that they were reportedly killed for introducing 400 kg (880 lb) of methamphetamine into Indonesia.
On Wednesday, a Jakarta court sentenced six fighters to death using a video app for their role in a 2018 prison uprising in which five members of the Indonesian counter-terrorism squad were killed.
“Virtual hearings degrade the rights of defendants who face death sentences – it’s someone’s life or death,” said Amnesty International Indonesia director Usman Hamid.
“The death penalty has always been a cruel punishment. But this online trend adds to injustice and inhumanity. “
Indonesia continued with virtual hearings even as the number of executions and death sentences declined globally last year, with COVID-19 halting many criminal proceedings, Amnesty said in its annual report on the death penalty. this week.
Virtual hearings leave defendants unable to fully participate in cases that are sometimes disrupted in countries with poor internet connections, including Indonesia, critics say.
“Virtual platforms … can expose the defendant to significant violations of their rights to a fair trial and affect the quality of the defense,” said the NGO Harm Reduction International in a recent report on the death penalty for drug offenses. .
Lawyers complained that they were unable to consult clients due to virus restrictions. And the families of the accused have sometimes been prevented from accessing hearings that would normally be open to the public.
“These virtual hearings represent a clear disadvantage for the defendants,” said Indonesian lawyer Dedi Setiadi.
Setiadi, who defended several men sentenced to death in the methamphetamine case this month, said he would appeal their case on the grounds of the injustice of virtual hearings.
Relatives of the defendants did not have full access, the lawyer said.
Death sentences are often commuted to long prison terms in Indonesia, and an in-person trial could have led to a less severe verdict, according to Setiadi, who described his clients as low-level players in the smuggling circle.
“The verdict could have been different if the judges had spoken directly with the defendants and had seen their expressions,” he said. “A Zoom hearing is less personal.”
The Supreme Court of Indonesia, which ordered online hearings during the pandemic, did not respond to requests for comment.
But the country’s judicial commission told AFP news agency that it had asked the higher court to consider returning to trials in person for serious crimes, including death penalty cases.
There are nearly 500 people, including many foreigners, awaiting execution in Indonesia, where convicted prisoners are taken to a clearing in the jungle, tied to a stake and shot.