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Thursday, February 12, 2015

State-sanctioned murder of Chan & Sukumaran

The state-sanctioned murder of Andrew Chan & Myuran Sukumaran

Indonesia inches closer to its promise to execute Australian drug traffickers, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran despite their appeals, pleas for clemency, requests from the Australian government and numerous human rights groups.

Indonesia has been practicing the death penalty since 1973 and reserves it for murder, terrorism, drug trafficking and genocide. It is enforced through firing squad, in which the accused criminal is blind-folded and stands or kneels before a squad of 12 armed executioners. Three of the 12 use live bullets, the other nine fire blanks. The practice is cruel and barbaric. Prisoners don't always die immediately. If they survive, the Commander issues another bullet and the prisoner is shot in the head. The prisoner and their family are given 72 hours notice of the impending execution.

The government believes it is sending a strong message and a deterrent to would be criminals. Without doubt, there would be some who would think twice about trafficking in Indonesia, yet the country has one of the highest rates of drug abuse in Asia and claims 50 people a day die from drug abuse. Clearly, the death penalty is not the deterrent the Indonesian government believes it is.

Victorian Supreme Court judge, Justice Lex Lasry told ABC's 7.30 Report on 11 February 2015, 'I don't believe there are any circumstances at all in which governments should take men or women out and kill them. We must be surely getting past the point where governments regard killing as a legitimate punishment. There are all sorts of other punishments - life imprisonment and so on - but the idea that a government would take individuals out into the bush, as they would here, and shoot them is just something that I can never live with and never understand, and apart from anything else, from a legal point of view, no-one really claims now that it has any real deterrent value. It's just a terrible thing to do'. (1)

The legality of the death penalty was challenged in 2007 but the Indonesian Constitutional Court declared it was constitutional.

The current round of state-sanctioned murders is purely political. President Joko Widodo was only elected in October 2014 in a close fought election. It had been two years since an execution, but almost immediately after the election, Widodo proceeded with executions of prisoners on death row. Six faced the firing squad in January 2015; all had been convicted of drug crimes. Former Labor Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans summed it perfectly when he said that Widodo was 'trying to demonstrate his cajones, his testosterone'. (2)

The President is adamant that Chan and Sukumaran will be executed in February 2015 despite their pleas, despite their rehabilitation. Both men have contributed immensely to the well-being, education and rehabilitation of other inmates. Sukumaran studied art under the mentorship of Melbourne artist, Ben Quilty. He continues painting and has even sold some of his paintings to raise money for other inmates, such as Maria Cecilia Lopez who needed $4,000 for an operation on a tumour. Both Chan and Sukumaran have been actively involved in drug rehabilitation programs in prison, providing assistance, guidance and inspiration to other prisoners. Chan has become a Christian pastor and leads church services.

The Australian Federal Police are complicit in the deaths of Chan and Sukumaran. They were aware of the 2006 drug trafficking operation and could have arrested Chan, Sukumaran and the other members of the 'Bali 9' before they even left Australia. The AFP was well aware of the fate that awaited traffickers in Indonesia, yet they chose to let the nine travel to Bali for the operation before informing Indonesian authorities. The AFP has blood on its hands.

Some have argued that the men deserve to die because the drugs could have killed innocent people in Australia. A shallow argument. People aren't forced to use drugs. They use them because they choose them. No-one would have stopped using drugs because of the failed Bali 9 operation. Drug users, and their parents, need to take responsibility for their own actions and not blame others. The drug industry faces the same economic laws as every other industry. Namely, supply and demand. If the demand isn't there, there won't be supply. Contrary to what some believe, dealers are not nefariously aiming to increase supply by 'getting others hooked'. People choose to use drugs. Killing their traffickers does not stop or change this.

More importantly, killing the mules doesn't change this. The drug lords aren't the ones getting caught. They continue living in luxury looking for other mules to take the risk. This includes the man suspected of being the drug lord that Chan and Sukumaran were mules for. If reports are to be believed, he is living in luxury in Sydney (3). As we often see when it comes to the law, it's the ordinary person who pays the price while the wealthy get away scot-free.

Facing a firing squad is a high price to pay for politicians wanting popularity, to demonstrate their 'cajones', for a failed policy and for a stupid mistake the men made and admit to. They haven't denied trafficking and don't deny they should be punished. Life in prison would be preferable to death. It would also be more productive. They have touched the lives of many in prison and would have positive influence on many others over the coming years.

And it's not just about Chan and Sukumaran. No-one, regardless of the crime, should be executed. The death penalty is state-sanctioned murder, whether it's in Indonesia, the United States or any other country.


1. ABC, 7.30 Report, Leigh Sales, 11 February 2015, Supreme Court judge Lex Lasry calls for clemency for Bali 9 duo, Accessed 12 February 2015.

2. Brisbane Times, Deborah Snow, 11 February 2015, 'Bob Carr calls on AFP to explain themselves over Bali Nine'. Accessed 12 February 2015.

3. Sydney Morning Herald, Nick Mckenzie, Richard Baker, Michael Bachelard, 11 February 2015, 'Suspected Bali Nine mastermind living in luxury as Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran sit on death row', Accessed 12 February 2015.

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