Harsh Laws

What exactly is the purpose of law? Its ultimate purpose, I would like to think… is to prevent crimes instead of punishing them. It’s to provide boundaries so people can have freedom.

But sometimes, when concepts such as the death penalty is introduced, then the lines would be blurred: and in a glance, it’s almost as if now, the law robs humans out of their freedom.

Boy Under The Bridge asked me to write about my perspective on the Bali 9 Execution.

If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s about the decision that the President of Indonesia made a few months ago: declaring that he will not approve any clemencies for drug offences, which thus put a group of 9 Australians (who were arrested for smuggling drugs into Bali) on death penalty.

It’s not easy to write on such a sensitive topic, and to be honest, I can understand both sides of the argument. Personally, I consider myself as a humanist. I prefer to think that people can change, and it’s always better to rehabilitate and counsel, rather than execute.

But I also studied about the dramatization of crimes and punishment, and to some extent, I recognize that there’s a need to give harsh examples, in order to deter people from committing similar crimes in the future.

Not all humans are good rule-followers. And as much as I like to be an encourager and believe in the power of positive reinforcements instead of punishments, I admit that fear also plays a part in discipline.

Whatisyourperspective reminded me: dura lex sed lex –  ‘harsh law is still law’ or ‘the law is harsh, but it is still the law’.

And to some point, I do agree with it. What is legal is not always ethical, and yet we still must uphold them, because if we don’t, then the consequences will be even more unethical.

It’s not wrong that certain countries are defending the sentenced prisoners… because it’s undeniable that human lives are valuable. But if the punishment is not being uphold, then it may not hinder people from committing such crimes, which could potentially cause even greater number of victims.

And it gets me thinking: maybe ethics on itself (without harsh laws)… may not be enough to protect.

I guess the important thing is to treat this law solely for its intended purpose: a way to protect the people en masse, (desperate as it seems). For fellow Indonesians, I don’t think it’s ever okay to glorify a death penality, or even take joy in a life being lost. Because it’s ultimately a very tragic story, something that should not be talked about lightly.

For others, I think that the focus should not be about #boycottbali, or about attacking harsh laws or harsh governments. No government is ever perfect. And I know for a fact, that my country’s justice system left much to be desired for. But maybe, the focus should be how we could stop people from smuggling and selling drugs – because the lives who are ensnared in drugs and become lost because of it, are also as tragic.

What do you think about harsh laws?


P.S. If any of you has any suggestions on topics that I should write, you can do so here. 🙂

Disclaimer: This post is really just based on my personal thoughts, and not meant to discredit anyone / any government systems.


31 thoughts on “Harsh Laws”

  1. I get it. Sometimes, harsh laws are needed. But i think the death penalty should be kept aside for things like aggravated murder. Not that smuggling isn’t bad, it is. But in my opinion, a lesser punishment would be preferable in this situation.

    1. Yeah, I understand. Personally, I think the worst punishments that humans and government could inflict should be life-time sentence (life time imprisonment).. since I dont think we ever have the right to decide someone’s death. But then.. if the law is there, then maybe the best thing is too look at its rationale, instead of simply criticizing it (like what often happens in the news).

  2. In the ideal world,, we all live harmaneously and following the laws. However, the reality is very far from it. There are several people who felt that they are above the law. Therefore, some countries implemented harsh laws in hopes of discouraging the people to break the law.

    I also don’t fully support the death penalty since death would be too simple for them. It would be better if they would be given a chance to reflect on their crimes and hopefully repent and become better persons of the society.

    However, I also think that we are better off if we get rid of some people (the likes of Bin Laden). After all, we should also consider the big picture.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I can see where you’re coming from. It does seem a lot more convenient to “get rid” of some people, isn’t it? However, the lines of who should be executed vs. those who should be given a second chance is hardly ever clear. And seemingly repentant people can turn back to their “bad” path anyways. But similarly, some terrible people can also repent and be good people, when given the chance.

      But who are we to judge who is good or bad?

      Still, I understand that the reality, law (harsh or not), must still be respected. Because like I said earlier… ethics alone might not be enough to protect.

      P.S. It’s interesting to read the discussion here, isn’t it? We have your views of considering the big picture (which is valid), and we also have BoyUnderTheBridge who considers the case in a more isolated way (which is also understandable).

      1. The line of who should be executed vs. those who should be given a second chance would never be cleared. However, we can’t deny that there are people who have made their stance clear that they do those atrocities just because they can. For example, I don’t think that the peole of ISIS would budge no matter what we say. Also, I highly doubt that we have a prison anywhere in the world that have the capability of holdling people like bin Laden, he would just be like a ticking time bomb no matter where you put him.

        But we should also consider that there are many factors why people become “bad”. It may be due to the environmnent that they grew up in, or maybe because of poverty, as a wise man said, “an empty stomach knows no laws”. A country that lacks a good and credible justice system can cause a good man to put the laws and judgment into his own hands and become a murderer. In Hong Kong, we don’t have harsh laws but I think that Hong Kong is one of the cities with the least crime rate in the world since we don’t have most of the problems that I wrote above.

        And every good leaders understand that the good of the many outweigh the needs of the few. This may sound very cold and cynical but that’s the way it usually is…

      2. Haha yeah. There are certainly extremist, who will still conduct crime / acts of terrorism, regardless of the circumstances, or even if they are not hungry.

        The majority of the common people, might resort to crime if they are pushed into a corner. I think the best ideal situation is simply for the law to be equal, and not loose for the people at the top and harsh on the people at the bottom.

        Btw. You’re from HK eh? Cool, I’ve been there once, and it was awesome 😀

      3. The law is supposed to be equal for everyone. But well, we all know that that’s not the case. I also hope for our justice systems to be fairer in the future no matter how idealistic it sounds.

        Yes, I’m from HK. Though I prefer to live on a less busy environment, I still think that HK is a very good place.

  3. Very good piece.

    I don’t know enough about the incident itself to comment greatly.

    The way your piece is reading to me is that the law was passed after the incident. If that is indeed the case then to my mind it is a Government committing legislated murder after the fact.

    If the death penalty was in place when the incident took place, whether you agree with it or not, then those that committed the act, if guilty are deserving of that punishment if that is what the courts decree.

    The perpetrators, you would think knew what the ramifications would be if caught. They weighed risk vs reward and decided the reward was worth the risk.

    1. Sorry if the details were unclear in the post. Indonesia has always had Capital Punishment, but it’s not widely practiced.

      The perpetrators were caught in 2005, and the ring leaders were sentenced to capital punishment.. yet continuously tries to appeal for lesser sentence. However, in late 2014, the President publicly rejects the appeal, saying that he will not approve any clemencies for drug offences. -And this is where the whole huha about the controversies start.

      So yeah.. like what you said, on one hand the perpratators should’ve known better. But on the other hand, some people are saying that everyone deserves a second chance…. so yeah.

      1. English, a funny language, ha ha and strange.

        Tough call. The world is getting more hardline. Being in the place where the buck stops is extremely difficult.

        I don’t believe in Capital Punishment either. I’m also taking that position as someone who had a very good friend who was murdered.

        I don’t know what your President’s personal position is and frankly I believe with somethings you don’t get to have a personal opinion. At least not publicly because it would defeat the purpose of the position and the duties that position entails.

      2. Yes, I think you’ve said it really well. In some cases, we don’t get to have a personal opinion. We don’t have to agree with every laws, but we must still respect them.

        In the end perhaps, the law and ethics are two different things, and yet both are designed to protect individuals. In some cases, they overlap. But I think in all circumstances, the law needs to always stands. Because only in a stable justice system, that ethics can flourish.

  4. I agree with you… The law is the law, whether harsh or not. But the judicial system should be incorruptible… To ensure that only the perpetrators are punished, not those who are innocent. To some, justice can be bought and only those with lesser means are punished by the law.

  5. Thank you for bringing this up, Victoria.

    I come from Japan where there is death penalty, and I now live in Australia where there is no death penalty. In Japan, it is said that once prosecuted it is hardly possible to be proven innocent. In Australia, one is innocent until proven guilty.

    I agree with you. I can see a bit of both side too.

    My questions might be; how would we know who can be rehabilitated and who not? What if ( just as an example) my family members were drug users and that I knew the use of such drugs really destroys lives?

    I am also observing people knowingly do wrong things in Australia( much smaller scales than drug smuggling), because they ‘know’ that they cannot be caught, that their wrongdoings could rarely be proven.

    There really are people with very different level of morals and ethics. And for those people, it almost seems that there has to be consequences ( punishments) they want to avoid. And then we get to think what would be a large enough consequence that weighs more than the sort of money drug smuggling might provide.

    It’s difficult, isn’t it. Could education ever be strong enough?

    1. Thanks a lot Maiko, and I’m really glad that this post can provoke a thought in you, that you decided to write a post on it. 🙂

      It’s really interesting that you lived in both Japan and Australia, and in a sense, gets to see the way both sides work. I think part of the way this case (the Bali 9) gets so much controversies, is because it involves two countries, with contrasting justice system. If this decision were about Indonesians, then it might not be this widely argued. Maybe.

      I have no answer for your question. It’s something that I often wonder about as well. Education might help… but I don’t think we are talking about the standard math/science/school education. Instead, in cases like this, the more people are educated –> the better job –> the higher is their stake, so they would be less inclined to do wrongs (because they could lose so much, if they were to be caught). I think sometimes, this risk of losing what you have, might even be higher than the risk of getting into jail / punished (if you have nothing in the first place).

      Much of it is social education. But as what you said: re-educating adults is the hard part. And to some sense, it’s only when you re-educate adults who influence their children, that the younger generation can change.

  6. Thanks for addressing my request Victoria.

    I like to look at the crime and penalty without all the media attention, and in a more human, isolated way.

    If there was no media coverage then there would be no ‘message sent’ to any would-be future offenders. It would simply be the death of two individuals and a lot of sad family members. Two individuals who have been labeled as ‘role model’ inmates, and who will continue to actively deter others from committing similar crimes. Two individuals who have spent a decade behind bars in good behaviour to become more deserving in my opinion.

    So it’s sad they got caught in the publicity.

    At the end of the day, if the law is there to protect the people, its done its job. Its prevented the drugs from hitting the street (they were intended for Australian streets I believe?) and locked up the two for long enough that they’ve changed from their criminal ways.

    If they law is also there to be ethical, then something is definitely wrong if people who directly commit harm and murder don’t also get mandatory lifetime sentences.

    1. Sorry for the late reply.

      Yours is a very humanist perspective, and it’s great that you are able to empathize, and see it through an isolated human way. And in some ways, I agree with you. However, the reality is we can’t see something only in an isolated way, because that would take things out of its context. The media, for better or for worst – plays a big part in this. And while we can argue that the media only does it because such controversies “make good news / good money”, a death sentence without publication would lose its original purpose. Governments practice harsh laws to make examples, and deter people from committing such crime.

      It’s a tricky business, and there is never a clear line between who should be given a second chance, and who should not.. So yeah, I think the best thing is to see harsh laws as an effort to discourage people from breaking laws, instead of punishing them. The capital punishment has always been a part of the Indonesian law for a while for drug cases and murders (it’s just that this case is an international case that is more widely publicized). Personally, I don’t believe in execution, but I believe the context in which the President makes the announcement that he will not approve any clemencies, is to send the message to all drug dealers / ring leaders, that such act would not be tolerated. It’s hard to stay “fair” and ensure that the law stands strong, if one decides to approve one clemency and disapprove another.

      The more I think about it, the more I believe that law and ethics are different things. Both are designed to protect people. But the law works on principles and not empathy.

  7. Yes I can also see both sides of the issue. But I am anti death penalty. I believe giving the Government the right to kill citizens allows the citizens the right to kill each other, perhaps out of fear of governmental revenge. Violence begets violence. Our last 30 years in the usa has given us extreme ignorance. We deny education, healthcare and justice. Only those who have the cash can live well without Government or local law enforcement molestation. There are exceptions to this but generally it’s true. The hate, fear and self righteous indignation will take a few generations to unravel. We’ve reached the level of hate and fear very quickly. We’ve always been self righteous. Compassion must start and continue before we see a change in our violence first mindset. The innocent ones become the martyrs and violent ones become the headlines. Everyone responds to the headlines. We all want revenge for the trespass but to what result? More hate, fear and violence. Rarely is a deeper cause or solution even considered. We need long tern solutions instead of quick fix solutions. Compassion starts with us. Will we give up everything for the cause? Sadly I will not. I do enjoy my comfort zone.

    1. Thanks for such an honest and thoughtful response.. it certainly makes me think. Yes, I agree that compassion is the start. But I think compassionate people doesn’t necessarily translate to become martyrs. I think there are times when simple actions can touch someone. And although it’s not a quick fix or life changing.. maybe it’s still better than forever living in our comfort zone, being observers.

  8. Great post.

    Unfortunately we live in an imperfect world in which it is difficult, neigh impossible, to either ascertain aspects like the propensity to rehabilitate, the mindset behind actions, the core motivator to indulge in illegal activities and so on.

    Under such a situation, I suppose the world and nations tend to swing between bouts of harsh actions and clemency.


    1. Yeah, I agree.. you brought up great point. There are so many uncertainties.. and it’s never a clear line between clemencies or not. Forgiveness is always good. But too many clemencies might not send a strong enough message that would deter further crime? …… :/

  9. In chemestry I studied about two types of gases the real ones and the ideal ones the only difference is that the ideal gases never existed we have to imagine that there is a gas that is ideal…(the reason I never liked chemestry we have to assume everything). Real gases do behave like ideal gaes at some point but not wholely and not without any human interference..

    In the same manner we live in the real world and we assume there is an ideal world,our idea of ideal world. We cannot reach it but we know we have the power the idea and a believe to make it work like one . We just gotta accept the flaws of our real world try to make it as ideal as possible.

    1. Wow. Hahaha. I love how you can bring science as a metaphor in this circumstance. It has been years since I studied chemistry, and I wished that I have thought about the parallel ways we can view the science and social worlds like you did. (It would certainly makes chem class more interesting lol). And yeah, I certainly agree with what you say “We just gotta accept the flaws of our real world try to make it as ideal as possible.” 🙂

      1. Our chem class could be intresting if my teacher ever wanted to. She makes the class so boring, I mean like as soon as I see her entering the class my eyes starts to close . I don’t know if she know any black magic or something but it looks like the gavitational force just increased to make us close our eyes and put our head down and just sleep.

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