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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Post-script to the state-sanctioned murder of Chan & Sukumaran

Post-script to the state-sanctioned murder of Chan & Sukumaran

Around 12.35am on 29 April 2015, an Indonesian firing squad executed Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukumaran, Rodrigo Gularte, Martin Anderson, Raheem Agbaje Salami, Sylvester Obiekwe Nwolise, Okwudili Oyatanze, and Zainal Abidin bin Mgs Mahmud Badarudin.

The eight men refused blindfolds and sang Amazing Grace as they were tied to posts and shot dead(1).

It was a terrible postscript to each of their lives.

President Widodo and the members of the firing squad have blood on their hands. They have murdered eight men.

Myuran Sukumaran's last painting: the Indonesian flag dripping with blood

The only good news to come from that terrible evening was the last minute reprieve given to Mary Jane Veloso, the Filipina maid who was to be executed with the eight men. Her reprieve came in the form of two human traffickers who handed themselves into Philippines police stating that they were the ones who'd planted the drugs in Veloso's suitcase five years earlier(2).

Indonesia came dangerously close to executing an innocent woman. How many other innocent people have been executed?

The two human traffickers showed greater integrity than President Widodo, who could have granted clemency at any time but failed to.

For Chan and Sukumaran, the executions ended 10 years of a nightmare that began on 17 April 2005, when they were arrested in Bali. They were part of a group of nine people, the Bali Nine, who were convicted of attempting to smuggle 8.3kg of heroin from Indonesia to Australia. Found guilty of being the ringleaders of the group, Chan and Sukumaran were sentenced to death. The others received life sentences, although three of them were successful in having their sentences reduced to 20 years.

During the 10 years they spent in prison, Chan and Sukumaran were rehabilitated and helped other prisoners. Chan converted to Christianity and became an ordained Minister, leading church services and bible studies in prison. Sukumaran also converted to Christianity and studied art by correspondence through Australia's Curtin University. In February 2015 was awarded an Associate Degree in Fine Arts from Curtin University.

There are a number of questions around the executions of Chan and Sukumaran. At the time of their killings, both had a constitutional appeal to be heard on 12 May 2015 regarding the lack of individual consideration given to their clemency pleas by President Widodo.

In addition to this, there's the allegation that judges in their trial had threatened to sentence them to death unless they paid $130,000 in bribes(3). Although this has been investigated, the findings haven't been released to date. If true, it would have revealed judicial corruption and surely would have been grounds for an appeal against the death sentence(4). Two of the judges who ruled on Chan and Sukumaran's death penalty were sacked for corruption. One month after sentencing the duo to death, the panel of judges commuted a death sentence to 15 years because it breached the constitutional right to life for a man found with nearly four times the amount of drugs that Chan and Sukumaran were(5).

And then there are the questions over the Australian Federal Police involvement. They were tipped off by the concerned father of Scott Rush, who hoped they'd stop his son leaving Australia. Instead, the illustrious AFP tipped off Indonesia(6). The AFP could have arrested the Bali 9 in Australia and possibly been led to the king pin who organised it. Instead, they are complicit in the executions of Chan and Sukumaran.

The Brazilian prisoner, Rodrigo Gularte, was mentally ill. Under Indonesian law, a mentally ill prisoner should not be executed. According to Father Charlie Burrows, Gularte didn't realise he was being executed until the chains were put on him shortly before being taken out and shot(7).

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop both made representations and pleas to Widodo and other government ministers, to no avail. However, given Australia's contempt for Indonesia over turn backs of asylum seekers and bugging of presidential telephones, it's no wonder Widodo ignored Australia's pleas.

Bishop received advice that the executions were illegal under international law(8). However, given that Australia's treatment of asylum seekers breaches international law on torture(9) and the refugee convention(10), Abbott and Bishop had no moral vantage on which to play.

Widodo's insistence on the executions was political. Motivated by wanting to look tough. on drugs. Not unlike his Australian contemporary, Tony Abbott, who wants to look tough on asylum seekers. The timing of the executions has a question mark over it as well. It just so happens that former President Susilo Bambang Yudyhono (SBY) was to speak in Perth four days later. SBY cancelled the speaking engagement because the 'political, social and security situation was "not conducive" for his visit'(11).

Widodo claims that Indonesia has sent a strong message to drug smugglers(12). Shooting them is certainly a strong message, but has it made a difference? Indonesia's drug crisis has not relented even with the threat of capital punishment. Clearly the crisis isn't being driven by drug smugglers. Widodo regularly quotes that 50 people a day die because of drugs. These figures have been challenged(13), which suggest that a tough on drugs policy is being used purely for political popularity rather than a genuine commitment to combating drug use. Lex Lasry, a Victorian Supreme Court judge states that the death penalty does not deter crime. A number of studies have been unable to find evidence that the death penalty either deters or fails to deter crime(14).

A number of critics of Chan and Sukumaran said it was time to stop defending drug smugglers because the drugs could have killed Australians; that Chan and Sukumaran got what they deserved. Maybe it's time to stop defending drug users. No-one forces people to use drugs. If there was no demand there would be no supply. No-one deserves to die for supplying drugs; a custodial sentence is more than adequate.

Supporters aren't defending Chan and Sukumaran's crime, but who the men became.

Supporters aren't defending drug smuggling, but opposing execution.

Many critics have argued that Chan and Sukumaran knew the laws and that Indonesia has a right to uphold it's own laws. When sovereign laws breach international law, surely they can't be upheld. Surely, it is the duty of the world to seek these inhumane laws be overthrown.

Others have argued focus on these executions diverts attention from bigger issues such as the Nepal earthquake, Indonesia's genocide in West Papua, Israel's ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine and of course, the ISIS crisis, among others. However, we can't sit on our hands waiting for one issue to be fixed before addressing another. The death penalty is a worldwide problem with dozens of countries still using it.

On the day before Indonesia executed the eight drug smugglers, Pakistan hanged its 100th prisoner since a moratorium on executions was lifted in December 2014(15).

The death penalty will only be abolished by public pressure and awareness campaigns. The focus on Chan and Sukumaran as well as the other six prisoners, received global coverage. International media reported on the sentences for years and gave extensive coverage to the executions. While these killings were only a small number compared to the number of those executed globally, the attention they received helped to elevate the issue of capital punishment. Hopefully, this attention can be used to increase the pressure on all countries to abolish the death penalty.

On the day of their executions, the Australian Catholic University announced two scholarships open to Indonesian students(16). Applicants are required to submit an essay on the sanctity of human life. In a small way, ACU is hoping this will help further the cause to abolish the death penalty in Indonesia.

The death penalty must go. It is ineffective. It is barbaric. It is state-sanctioned murder.


1. SBS, 'They were singing: Priest describes dignified death of Chan, Sukumaran', 30 April 2015, Accessed 2 May 2015.

2. Washington Post, Lindsay Bever, 'How a Filipino maid skirted death moments before facing an Indonesian firing squad', 29 April 2015, Accessed 2 May 2015.

3. Sydney Morning Herald, Tom Allard, ''They wanted $130,000 ... and then more': explosive Bali nine bribe allegations', 27 April 2015, Accessed 2 May 2015.

4. Sydney Morning Herald, Tom Allard, 'Bali nine executions: investigation into bribery allegations completed by judicial commission', 28 April 2015, Accessed 2 May 2015.

5. Sydney Morning Herald, Michael Bachelard, Nick McKenzie, 'Two Bali nine judges sacked for corruption, manipulation', 12 February, 2015, Accessed 2 May 2015.

6. The Guardian, Daniel Hurst, 'Bali Nine: fresh calls for review of federal police actions that led to executions', 29 April 2015, Accessed 2 May 2015.

7. Daily Mail, Sarah Michael and Candace Sutton, ''Am I being executed? That's not right': Confused last words of schizophrenic Brazilian drug trafficker shot alongside Bali Nine duo... who 'heard voices' and had no idea he was being killed until the last moment, 30 April 2015, Accessed 2 May 2015.

8. Sydney Morning Herald, Michael Bachelard, 'Chan and Sukumaran execution 'illegal', but Indonesia ignores Australia again', 2 May 2015, Accessed 2 May 2015.

9. Human Rights Law Centre, 'UN finds Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers violates the Convention Against Torture', 9 March 2015, Accessed 2 May 2015.

10. ABC, FactCheck - 'Children in detention: Is Australia breaching international law?', 8 April 2014, Accessed 2 May 2015.

11. ABC Radion National, AM, Michael Brissenden, 'Calls for coordinated approach to end death penalty in Indonesia', 30 April 2015, Accessed 2 May 2015.

12. Al Jazeera, 'Joko Widodo: 'A strong message to drug smugglers'', 7 March 2015, Accessed 2 May 2015.

13. The Conversation, Claudia Stoicescu, Indonesia uses faulty stats on ‘drug crisis’ to justify death penalty, 5 February 2015, Accessed 2 May 2015.

14. ABC, FactCheck - 'No proof the death penalty prevents crime', 2 March 2015, Accessed 2 May 2015.

15. Dawn, 'Pakistan hangs 100th convict, Amnesty slams 'shameful milestone'', 28 April 2015, Accessed 2 May 2015.

16. Australian Catholic University, 'New international scholarships', 29 April 2015, Accessed 2 May 2015.

Linked article by Ranting Panda