02/04/2013 17:24 BST | Updated 02/06/2013 06:12 BST

Executions in Indonesia: Sacrifices to the False God of Deterrence

You just could not make it up. In Indonesia, the public wants action on corruption, and on drugs. Judge Setyabudi Tejoahyono, deputy head of the Bandung court, had been trained to handle corruption cases. He was assigned to preside over a corruption trial. Last week, he was arrested for taking a bribe in the case.

Corruption is endemic. Earlier in March, Indonesian authorities carried convicted drug courier Adami Wilson, a Nigerian, to a remote location and executed him by firing squad. Wilson had complained that he had paid what he had been told was the necessary bribe to secure commutation of his sentence, but the promised mercy never came. He was executed in part because he admitted to corruption.

At a recent public meeting here, an official in the Indonesian narcotics police said that they have to execute drug mules like Wilson because it is the only way to get them to stop dealing drugs. He explained that the condemned prisoners know that they must pay a bribe to get mercy; since capital punishment means those without the capital get the punishment, none of them has the money; so they have to deal drugs in prison to raise the funds to save their own lives. To stop this, he said - and he might have been quoting directly out of Joseph Heller's Catch 22 - we have to kill them.

There is clearly an appetite for executing foreigners, who have been tarred as the cause of all Indonesia's addictions: at least 40 of the 71 prisoners facing execution for drugs are foreigners. Now that Wilson is dead, seventeen are Nigerian. I ran across a legal judgement yesterday where the three judges imposed death on man, saying that one reason he had to be guilty because he was a black Nigerian.

I am in Jakarta on a human rights mission, focused on a number of Europeans facing execution here, including British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford. So where does all this leave her? It appears that the drug cartels - from Iran and elsewhere - have recognised that Nigerian mules are now a liability, perhaps owing to the blatant racism that provokes disproportionate searches of dark skinned Africans at the airport. The cartels are now turning to vulnerable Europeans, who they believe to be more likely to get past the customs agents.

No matter whether it is Indonesia or the United States, when one hears a politician beating the drum of the death penalty, we know what is happening: the politician has noted a complex problem, cannot be bothered with a sensible solution, so pretends that killing a few black foreigners will cure society's ills. It is a lie, a corruption that is perhaps more pernicious than the bribes that Judge Tejoahyono apparently accepted.

With more than half a million Indonesians between 10 and 19 addicted to drugs, there is certainly a challenge, but the sheer scale of the addiction proves the failure of the Indonesian policy. The flood of drugs can only be stemmed by rooting out the cartels, rather than the mules; it is not going to be stopped by the fluid border of Indonesia's 17,508 islands. There must be effective sharing of information, yet because a large majority of countries (111 in the last UN vote, including every member of the European Union) are opposed to the death penalty, international cooperation on the narcotics trade is hugely hampered by the Indonesian appetite for executions.

Executing Lindsay Sandiford will simply undermine what little cooperation currently exists between the UK and Indonesia - and perhaps deter British tourists from coming here on holiday. Meanwhile, executing the odd Nigerian is nothing more than a token, ritual sacrifice to the false god of deterrence.