Will Indonesia execute a mentally ill Brazilian?

Rodrigo Gularte has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, but his illness may not stop a 12-man firing squad.

Angelita Muxfeldt, a cousin of jailed Brazilian Rodrigo Gularte, is fighting to halt his execution [AP]

Jakarta, Indonesia – Rodrigo Gularte spends much of his days conversing with an absent person, alone in his cell. His fellow prisoners believe he talks to ghosts.

Black magic is greatly feared in Indonesia and most inmates avoid the 42-year-old Brazilian – one of a minority of foreigners held on the prison island of Nusa Kambangan in Central Java province.

But according to doctors, the ghosts he talks to are in fact voices inside his head.

Gularte’s sanity has steadily deteriorated since being sentenced to death in 2005 for smuggling 6kg of cocaine into the country, sealed inside surfboards.

Last year his family, assisted by the Brazilian embassy, arranged for a group of specialists to evaluate his mental health. Psychological assessment reports seen by Al Jazeera show that after visiting him twice monthly between July and November, they concluded he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. 

“Now Rodrigo lives in an unreal world,” his cousin Angelita Muxfeldt says. “He was first diagnosed with depression and bi-polar disorder when he was 16, but he’s never accepted treatment or medication. So it’s very difficult.”

A photo of imprisoned Rodrigo Gularte [Provided by family]
A photo of imprisoned Rodrigo Gularte [Provided by family]

Most pertinent among his delusions is that Indonesia has abolished the death penalty.

“He doesn’t believe he could die. One of the voices tells him he will be extradited and that he will go home,” Muxfeldt says, speaking to Al Jazeera by phone from Cilacap town, near the prison where Rodrigo is being held.

But this is not true.

New Indonesian President Joko Widodo, best known as Jokowi, has made executing drug convicts – particularly foreign nationals – a policy priority since taking office in November.

Between 1999 and 2014, 27 people were executed, an average of fewer than two executions per year. But within Jokowi’s first 100 days in office in January, Indonesia executed six people – the highest number in the previous six years.

A further nine are expected to be put to death in the coming days or weeks, including Gularte.

12-man firing squad

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the alleged lead members of the “Bali Nine” – a drug-smuggling syndicate caught attempting to take 8.4kg of heroin out of Bali in 2005 – were moved to the Nusa Kambangan prison facility in recent days, along with convicts from France, Ghana, Nigeria, the Philippines and Indonesia.

At an imminent but undisclosed date, they will be taken from their cells in the middle of the night, led to a jungle clearing, and shot to death – each by a separate 12-man firing squad.

The Brazilian embassy has made efforts to have Gularte’s life spared, but relations with the Indonesian government have been strained since fellow Brazilian Marco Archer Cardoso Moreira was executed last month for smuggling cocaine.

President Dilma Rousseff withdrew her ambassador and refused to acknowledge Indonesia’s new ambassador, Toto Riyanto, after reports that Moreira was dragged crying from his cell, and was refused religious counsel in his final moments.

It seems all that stands between Gularte and a similar fate is the conclusion of a small team of psychiatrists sent by the Indonesian attorney general’s office to assess his condition last Tuesday.

To save the Brazilian’s life it is vital that his illness be recognised. In accordance with Article 44 of the Indonesian penal code, a person who has a mental disorder cannot face sentencing. Executing anyone suffering from mental illness is also prohibited under international law. 

‘They’ll think I’m crazy’

But Muxfeldt is concerned the state-appointed psychiatrists who came to visit her cousin were only given two hours to evaluate him.

Angelita Muxfeldt [AP]
Angelita Muxfeldt [AP]

She says during her cousin’s consultation he refused to admit to hearing voices and did not understand he was talking to a doctor.

“I said to Rodrigo ‘why didn’t you tell them?'” she says, her voice cracking with frustration. “And he said ‘no, if I tell him that then they’ll think I’m crazy.'”

The attorney general’s office could not be reached for comment by the time of publication, but has reportedly said there remains “uncertainty” over Gularte’s mental health. 

The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights could also not be reached for comment.

Regardless of the eventual decision, rights campaigners say that from the beginning Gularte’s treatment has demonstrated the calamity of Indonesia’s legal system.

“Rodrigo has been mentally ill since he was a teenager,” says Haris Azhar, coordinator of Kontras, a Jakarta-based human rights NGO. “You cannot try a mentally ill person, and the court failed to establish that he had a mental condition. These are major failings. He does not speak Indonesian, he did not have a lawyer – you cannot claim that he faced a fair trial.”

Tales of corruption and incompetence abound on every tier of Indonesian law enforcement, and concerns remain over the use of the death penalty in a system that consistently fails to deliver justice.

Rights advocates say it is because of a lack of a proper legal process that Gularte’s mental instability only now is being brought to light. And if the courts fail to acknowledge Gularte’s condition, there may be little hope for him.

Defiant president

So far Jokowi has remained defiant in the face of international pressure to grant clemency – refusing to pardon any of the 58 foreign drug convicts on death row.

“I need to say [this] firmly … there should not be any intervention regarding the death penalty,” Jokowi told reporters last month. “It is our sovereign right to exercise our law.”

Threats of minor diplomatic sanctions appear to have delayed the latest round of executions, pushed back from February, but the president seems determined to continue as planned.

In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera, Jokowi said the death penalty was necessary to combat Indonesia’s “drug emergency”.

“Now we have 4.5 million people in rehab and at least 1.5 million people who cannot be cured. I don’t want Indonesia’s next generation to be ruined,” he said.

 Indonesia’s executions

“Yes, as a human being I feel [the suffering of the families of those sentenced to death], but I also feel the suffering of those parents whose children are addicted to drugs.

“You are welcome to visit rehabilitation centres, and hear the [victims] screaming because of their drug addiction. We have to see both sides… Don’t only look at the smugglers.”

But academics say Jokowi’s “drug emergency” is exaggerated and based on a misreading of flawed data. With dwindling approval ratings and a growing perception that he is weak and indecisive, critics point to more cynical political motivations in executing foreign convicts.

“Jokowi is stoking nationalist sentiment. He prefers to avoid difficult legal reform, which is complicated, and prefers to execute foreigners, which is easy,” says Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch.  

Harsono added Indonesia’s drug trade was primarily controlled by corrupt law enforcement, not foreign traffickers.

For example, much of the capital’s amphetamine trade centres on a strip of police and military-controlled nightclubs on Jl Hayam Wuruk Street, just a few blocks north of the presidential palace in north Jakarta.

“Jokowi’s executing foreigners to create an image that he is tough. This is not a tough guy, this is just a bad politician,” Harsono says. 

Source: Al Jazeera