Amnesty says nearly 100 detainees have been sentenced virtually by judges since the start of last year.
Indonesia has sentenced several prisoners to death for Zoom and other video apps during the coronavirus pandemic in what critics call an “inhuman” insult to those facing the firing squad.
The Southeast Asian nation has turned to virtual hearings, as COVID-19 restrictions have ended most face-to-face trials, including murder and drug trafficking cases, which can entail the death penalty.
Since the start of last year, nearly 100 detainees have been sentenced to death in Indonesia by judges whom they could only see on a television screen, according to Amnesty International.
The predominantly Muslim nation has some of the strictest drug laws in the world, and Indonesian and foreign traffickers have been executed, including the masterminds of the Australian heroin gang Bali Nine.
This month, 13 members of a smuggling ring, including three Iranians and a Pakistani, learned via video that they would be shot dead for smuggling 400 kg (880 pounds) of methamphetamine into Indonesia.
A Jakarta court on Wednesday sentenced six fighters to death using a video app for their role in a 2018 prison riot in which five members of the Indonesian counterterrorism team were killed.
“Virtual hearings degrade the rights of defendants sentenced to death – it is someone’s life or death,” Amnesty International Indonesia director Usman Hamid said.
“The death penalty has always been a cruel punishment. But this trend online adds to injustice and inhumanity. “
Indonesia continued its virtual hearings even as the number of executions and death sentences abandoned around the world last year, COVID-19 disrupting 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 accused to significant violations of his fair trial rights and infringe on the quality of the defense,” NGO Harm Reduction International said in a recent report on the death penalty for drug offenses.
Lawyers have complained that they cannot see their clients due to viral restrictions. And families of defendants have sometimes been denied access to hearings that would normally be open to the public.
“These virtual hearings present a clear disadvantage for the defendants,” said Indonesian lawyer Dedi Setiadi.
Setiadi, who has defended several men on death row in the methamphetamine case this month, said he would appeal their case on the grounds that the virtual hearings were unfair.
Relatives of the defendants did not have full access, the lawyer said.
Death sentences are often commuted to long prison terms in Indonesia and a face-to-face trial could have resulted in a less severe verdict, according to Setiadi, who described his clients as low-level players in the smuggling ring.
“The verdict could have been different if the judges had spoken directly with the defendants and seen their expressions,” he said. “A Zoom audience is less personal.”
The Indonesian Supreme Court, which ordered online hearings during the pandemic, did not respond to requests for comment.
But the country’s judicial commission told AFP news agency it had asked the highest court to consider resuming face-to-face trials for serious crimes, including capital punishment cases.
There are nearly 500 people, many of them foreigners, awaiting execution in Indonesia, where condemned prisoners are led to a jungle clearing, tied to a stake and slaughtered.