Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity in Burma

Fragile and malleable support

We worked with IPSOS, a leading international market research company, to conduct a public opinion survey. It involved a stratified random probability sample of 1,515 respondents in Aceh, Bali, Greater Jakarta, North Sumatra, South Sulawesi, West Java and Yogyakarta.

While support for capital punishment was high in general, we found it is based on an assumption that the death penalty is carried out fairly and proportionately. When people learn it is not, support diminishes.

When given the choice of alternative sentences, such as life in prison without parole, support for the death penalty fell to just 25%.

Further rigorous questioning suggests initial support reflects gut reactions to an emotive topic – a desire to see wrongdoers punished – rather than well-informed opinions.

Importantly, respondents lacked knowledge about the death penalty. Only 2% considered themselves very well informed. Only 4% said they were very concerned about the issue.

When reflecting on specific and realistic cases, their support decreased further.

For example, when given details about a man who shot dead a shop owner during a robbery, 40% of respondents thought he deserved the death penalty. But when told the man had no previous convictions, support for the death sentence decreased to only 9%.

Likewise, 50% thought a “kingpin” drug trafficker deserved the death penalty. For a similar case where the defendant was poor and uneducated, simply a drug mule, this dropped to just 14%.

More than half of those who supported capital punishment did so because they believed it deterred serious crime. Over a third would support abolition if religious leaders did.

But when questioned about preferred measures to reduce such crime in Indonesia, respondents showed little trust in capital punishment. They had more faith in effective policing, poverty reduction or therapeutic interventions, such as healthcare treatments for drug addiction.

Asked which measures would be most effective to reduce drug crime, only 9% of the public suggested increasing death sentences, with only 6% suggesting more executions.