The case of Mary Jane Veloso has led to global condemnation of Indonesia’s brutal drug war, which includes firing squad execution of low-level drug mules.

Veloso, a resident of the Philippines, arrived in Indonesia five years ago with a five-pound stash of heroin in her bag. She claims her recruiter, Maria Christina Sergio, exploited her by handing her a loaded bag. According to Veloso, she didn’t know there was heroin in her bag.

Since being arrested five years ago, Veloso has been on death row in Indonesia with nine others scheduled for death by firing squad. Australia, who had two citizens in the group, withdrew their ambassador from Indonesia following the executions on April 28.

The policy of executing drug criminals in Indonesia was resumed in 2013 by President Joko Widodo – who reinstated executions after a five year gap due to popular support in the country

But after intense lobbying from the Philippine government and human rights organizations, Veloso’s execution was stayed on the grounds that she becomes an informant. The case also drew public support, which included protests near her prison at Nusa Kambangan Island, a trending topic on Twitter, and a petition with over 240,000 signatures.

While Veloso’s execution has only been delayed, the case has put a spotlight on Indonesia’s harsh drug policy – which tends to condemn victims of human trafficking and exploitation as drug criminals, rather than possible victims of larger drug syndicates. By recruiting Veloso as an informant, Indonesia’s government may be taking a step towards reform. Others are skeptical, as President Widodo is gaining political points for being tough on drugs. Some see the unfair policy as a form of classism: “The law enforced in Indonesia still tends to punish the poor, but very rarely punishes the upper and middle class like corrupt officials,” said Sringatin, Chairperson of the Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Network. Only time will tell if Indonesia will enact reforms, or simply continue executing drug mules because it’s popular with politician and the upper-class.

Graphic illustrations by Nico Villarete, with a report from Buena Bernal/