cw: death, capital punishment, drugs, drug trafficking
Merri Utami is one of ten death row inmates whose execution had been canceled temporarily by Attorney General Office. It has been two years but Merri’s fate is not clear yet. She is waiting still in Cilacap prison to be return to her home.
Story 1: Backstory of why Merri was forced into being a drug mule
I was a migrant worker in Taiwan where I took care of my employer’s father until he passed away. It was in Taiwan where I met Jerry. He was very kind, caring and loving. I fell in love with him quickly. Five months into our relationship we were living together in a happy relationship.
Jerry invited me to come to Nepal for a holiday together. He had booked a ticket and had proposed to marry me. I did not hesitate, as I was looking forward to spending time with Jerry on a holiday.
In Nepal, Jerry took me to visit attractions like the Monkey Temple, as well as local bars and restaurants. When we returned to the hotel one day, Jerry told me that he had to go back to Jakarta to take care of his business. Jerry telephoned me on the hotel phone saying he was already in Jakarta but that he needed me to meet with his friends. His friends would give me a sample handbag to bring to Jakarta for the shop. I longed for Jerry and did not want to be apart.
I met with Jerry’s two friends, Muhammad and Badru. They handed me a nice handbag. When I asked them why it was heavy, they told me it was made of quality leather. I didn’t think to ask any more questions.
I departed from Nepal to Jakarta on Singapore Airlines on the flight Jerry had booked for me. When I landed in Jakarta I hurried to leave the airport to meet Jerry. As I was leaving, I remembered I still hadn’t received my suitcase from the luggage collector. I returned to the baggage claim room. When I called Jerry to tell him my suitcase was missing, he tried force me to leave the airport. He said we could get the suitcase later. The most important thing to do was leave the airport immediately, he said.
However, I did not follow his advice. I insisted I wanted to report the missing suitcase to Lost and Found. The suitcase contained clothes and presents for family and friends, so I went to go make a lost baggage report.
As I was about to leave the Lost and Found room, a police officer at the airport stopped me and asked me to come to another room. In this room the handbag was stabbed by one of the policemen with a big kind of needle device. They stabbed the lining of the handbag I had been given me to reveal white powder. The bag was then torn in front of me and they found two parcels taped neatly and filled with white powder.
After this, I could not reach Jerry.
Story 2: The lead up to Merri’s proposed execution
I was scheduled to be executed last year… Moments before the firing squad shot the bullet, I thought I was ready to die. I wore a white shirt which had a mark where the doctor had signalled where my heart was. I had finally met my grandson for the first time and my daughter for the last time, and I prayed endlessly to God. I thought that was the end for me. I thought I was going to die that day. I was one of the ‘lucky’ ones that day.
It has taken a long time to get to where I am today. Seventeen years ago I was first taken by the police in Jakarta for the drugs that were planted in my bag. At this time I did not understand why I was being charged; I did not know about the drugs and they were planted. I was not told my rights.
I was powerless from the start of the legal process in Indonesia. I did not know I could replace the legal aid lawyer if they were appointed to handle my case. The lawyer I was provided did not give me information about the legal process, the possibility of presenting witnesses and evidence, and did not accompany me in the interrogation process. They did not appear much during my trial. They did not file my appeal.
I continued to fight the false charges. My friend helped me file an appeal. However the judges still believed that I was aware of the contents in the handbag. In their decision, my testimony and story was not considered by the judges at all. They already assumed I was guilty.
Because of this I have been locked up for 17 years. I was held in Tangerang Prison until I was escorted in a car to Nusakabangan, awaiting my execution. The Head of the Tangerang Women’s Correctional Facility escorted me. My family were not notified that I had been picked up for execution already. They received information the day after I was taken. I had no power.
On Friday morning, the day I was set to be executed, I was not informed of anything. It was raining heavily that night and the thunder rolled through. I was in my isolation cell, alone, praying. Suddenly the power went off.
In the morning I could hear as everyone was taken away from their cell with the sliding of the door. One of the inmates, Freddi Budiman, said “salam assalumualaikum” when he passed the cell.
I was saved from the bullet that day. I still cannot explain why I was not shot. I have not received an answer. But here I am, still in Cilacap Prison and it is 2018. I don’t know what hope I have of ever being released. I keep praying that someday I will be able to be free with my family.
Story 3: The torture and ill-treatment Merri suffered awaiting her execution
When I was arrested at Soekarno-Hatta Airport, the police tried to force me to admit that I owned the narcotics found in my bag. I denied the accusations, telling them that the bag was my friends. I told them all the information I knew honestly, about my trip to Nepal, about how I got the bag, and about who owned the bag. They did not believe me.
From the airport, I was taken by two policemen to Hotel Mega in Menteng area. I had to stay there overnight with the two policemen. We all slept in one room. One of the police said, “come here! I will have you first”. I spat on him, which was a bad idea. Throughout the night they beat me and verbally abused me.
The female detention room at the Police Headquarter was not any better. To find out information about my case, I was punched, kicked until my lower teeth penetrated my mouth, beaten with a batton, put in a confined space, I had a gun pointed at my head, and I was prevented from using the bathroom. These were strategies to get the ‘truth’ out of me. My roommate at the detention center, Chiap, who was a Thai citizen, was scared when I came back to the room. Sometimes I was covered in blood and bruises all over my body, or my face was no longer recognizable.
Because my teeth has been kicked in and my lips were swollen I found it hard to eat. I could only consume Energen using a straw. I asked the police if I could see a doctor to treat it. However, they only brought the doctor four or five days later, when the wound had started to dry.
In the detention, I slept on cardboard. It was Police Headquarter detention room for approximately three months.
Despite the forms of torture and pain they inflicted on me, I continued to tell them that I was not involved in narcotics. I told them I would rather die than say something that was untrue.
Interview conducted, translated and edited by the wonderful team at LBH Masyarakat - Community Legal Aid Institute in collaboration with Isobel Blomfield who spent time working on this project in Indonesia.