Firing squads becoming more common in Indonesia, experts say

They walk under darkness to a remote, open place — with a man of God speaking words of comfort.

Then, if they like, a blindfold. Another choice: To stand or sit.

Then the crack of rifle fire.

Death by firing squad is making a comeback in Indonesia, according to experts and local media accounts.

The archipelago nation executed six people last weekend — following an unofficial moratorium in 2014. That doesn’t bode well for Heather Mack and Tommy Schaefer, the Chicago-area pair on trial for murder in Bali — should they be convicted.

RELATED: Attorneys in Bali say indictments should be thrown out

“The relevance to the case involving the Chicagoans is that Indonesia does carry out its death penalty from time to time and the pattern is irregular,” said Northwestern University Professor Jeffrey A. Winters, who specializes in Southeast Asian politics. “So the threat is real.”

A pregnant Mack, 19, and Schaefer, 21, are being tried separately at the Denpasar District Court on Bali. They could face the firing squad if found guilty of the premeditated murder of Mack’s mother, Sheila von Wiese-Mack, 62, last August.

Last week, Cook County Judge Neil H. Cohen, noting the potential peril Mack faces, authorized the release of $150,000 in trust-fund cash to help pay for the teen’s defense.

The six people put to death — including five foreigners — were all convicted drug traffickers. Indonesia executed five people in 2013, but none in the four years before that, according to Death Penalty Worldwide, run by Cornell University Law School. The executions drew widespread condemnation from Amnesty and other human-rights groups.

“This is a seriously regressive move and a very sad day,” Rupert Abbott, Amnesty’s research director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement. “The new administration has taken office on the back of promises to make human rights a priority, but the execution of six people flies in the face of these commitments.”

On the eve of the executions, Indonesian Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo told reporters: “What we do is merely aimed at protecting our nation from the danger of drugs.”

But Winters said that shouldn’t necessarily offer comfort to Mack and Schaefer.

Drugs may be of a national concern, but protecting tourism is key on the Island of Bali, Winters said.

“Bali is the most important tourist center in Indonesia, and the judges there will be particularly sensitive to maintaining a sense of safety and security in Bali,” the professor said.

And it’s possible, Winters said, that Mack’s and Schaefer’s fates ultimately might have more to do with politics.

“The pattern appears to be that in recent years [that] whenever the government needs a major distraction, it uses executions as a way of changing a national discussion,” Winters said, noting Indonesian President Joko Widodo is currently dealing with a major controversy over his selection for national police chief.

In any case, Mack’s and Schaefer’s fates won’t be decided for some time, with their trial expected to last from two to four months.

Contributing: Associated Press

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