The death penalty: Indonesia way down the list of enforcers

If Indonesia executes Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, as it says it will, it will put that country among the most prolific killer-states where charges related to drugs are concerned.

The execution of six people last month made 2015 the most deadly for drug offenders in Indonesia since 2008, when 10 people were killed. In fact, there had been only one year since then, 2013, that executions had taken place at all.

If, as expected, 11 people are to stand before the next firing squad, it will bring this year's count to 17 – the largest count in the post-Suharto era. And the year is still young.

But Indonesia is not the only place in the world where the state will kill you for using, selling or moving drugs. Historically, it doesn't even rank in the top echelon.

In its 2012 report into the death penalty for drug offences, the most recent report available, Harm Reduction International (HRI) classified Indonesia as a "low application" state – one that applied its death penalty provisions for drugs only rarely.

Indeed, when that report was written, it had been four years since a single person had suffered the death penalty in Indonesia for any offence, according to the Death Penalty Worldwide database kept by Cornell University.

Over that period, China is estimated to have executed at least 17,000 people, according to the database. It's not known how many of those were killed for drug-related offences, but according to HRI, the conviction rate for such offences that carry the death penalty is nearly 100 per cent.

The table below shows executions for all offences by country in 2014 and 2015. The most commonly-used source for these figures is Amnesty International, but their most recent figures apply to 2013. These are sourced from the Death Penalty Worldwide database, which has compiled estimates for last year.

In all, 33 countries around the world will give a death sentence for drug offences. In 13 of those, the sentence is mandatory for particular offences.

Iran, which is a distant second to China in the ranks of countries that actively apply the death penalty, does so in large part for drug-related offences. According to HRI, more than 80 per cent of the 676 deaths by capital punishment in Iran in 2011 were for drug offences.

In that year, a new offence introduced the death penalty for trafficking or possessing more than 30 grams of "specified synthetic, non-medical psychotropic drugs, and for recruiting or hiring people to commit any of the crimes under the law, or organising, running, financially supporting, or investing in such activities", according to HRI.

Iran also has a mandatory death penalty for "heads of the gangs or networks", but the statute does not define what a gang or network is.

Mandatory death sentences for drug-related offences exist in Singapore and Malaysia, both of which neighbour Indonesia. Between 2009 and 2011, at least 290 people received death sentences in Malaysia, at least 196 of them for drug offences. In 2011, two people were actually executed, one for drugs.

Over the same period, according to the US state department, Indonesia's population of drug users grew by about 14 per cent between 2009 and 2011 to 4.1 million people. The problem has persisted.

The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) in 2013 said Indonesia was home to one of the world's largest markets for amphetamine-type substances, such as ice. It said the country housed 1.2 million "problem drug users", and 90 per cent of these were users of amphetamines.

Brookings Institute senior fellow Vanda Felbab-Brown that year called Indonesia a "hot and rapidly expanding meth production center", and noted that it "is no longer just a transit country for illicit drugs heading to Australia, China, and Japan, but is also increasingly a destination country", where an increasing number of the cooks were native Indonesians rather than foreigners.

"The expansion of the synthetic drugs market and the domestication of production have potentially large transformative effects on Indonesia's landscape of organised crime," she wrote.

As journalist Greg Sheridan noted this week, Indonesia's former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono seemed to lose his appetite for executions after the last of the Bali bombers was killed in 2008. Perhaps for that reason, Indonesia didn't feature prominently among the countries that actually kill people for drugs (as opposed to those that sentence people to death who then languish in jail for extended periods).

New President Joko Widodo seems less concerned.