Andrew and Myuran don’t deserve to die

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran
Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran
Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. Pic: Courtesy of Ben Quilty

Australians may boycott travel to Indonesia if convicted drug couriers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, our Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop has warned. Authorities in Indonesia are finalising plans to move them from Bali to a place of execution on a prison island off Java.

We know it will be very soon.

I struggle to comprehend that two men who have reshaped their lives for the better can’t be shown clemency. They’ve become model prisoners. All for nothing. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has summed up how we feel about it: We feel sick.

“I am very conscious of the strong representation Indonesia makes when its own citizens are on death row … If it’s right of Indonesia to have that expectation from others, it’s right for others to have that expectation of Indonesia,” he says.

Australians are “sickened by what might be about to take place”.  The PM also says the government would “certainly find ways to make our displeasure felt”.

I don’t vote Liberal. The incumbent party’s inhumane treatment of asylum seekers, especially children, will forever stain its history and our nation. But I admit Abbott, and Bishop particularly, have been fighting damn good and hard to save the two men. Bishop’s diplomacy skills are to be admired.

Julie Bishop
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop

If there’s no last-minute reprieve, Andrew and Myuran will shot by firing squad.

“Once they arrive, their handcuffs will be removed, their hands and legs bound, and they will be tied to poles next to each other,” reports The Age. “They can choose whether to stand, sit or kneel for their execution, unless the prosecutor determines otherwise. They will have three minutes to ‘calm themselves’, again accompanied by a chaplain if they wish. They will then be offered blindfolds, and a doctor will mark the location of their heart in black on their clothes.

“A firing squad of 12 officers will stand between five and 10 metres away. Only three of these 12 officers will have live bullets, the rest will have blanks. On the commander’s signal, all 12 officers will fire. If Chan and Sukumaran then still show signs of life, the commander will shoot them above the ear.”

The bodies will then be handed over to their grieving families.

Background: In 2005 nine young people stupidly tried to smuggle 8.3kg of heroin out of Indonesia and into Australia. Indonesian authorities were tipped off by the Australian Federal Police. In 2006 the nine were convicted by the Denpasar District Court and sentenced to life in prison or death. Known as the Bali Nine, they have been in a Bali prison ever since. Police have never arrested the main organisers and financiers of the smuggling operation.

Two of the Bali Nine, Andrew and Myuran, were considered the ringleaders and sentenced to death. They have shown remorse and turned their lives around, helping many other prisoners to do the same. Andrew is now a pastor with a degree in theology and runs cooking classes in jail. Myuran, aged 34, is a highly-talented artist who teaches art and even painted a portrait of the prison governor. The jail boss was delighted with his picture. It seemed perverse to me. A smiling assassin, considering he is a representative of the system which wants to kill the men. Yet, without the flexibility of this prison, neither men would have been able to achieve the skills they now have.

The top image is a collage of portraits painted by Myuran, tutored in prison by Australian artist Ben Quilty who has become a close friend. Myuran has revealed his torment in many of his self portraits.

Jakarta authorities remain unmoved. The pair are dead men walking. There is little leeway for drug smugglers in the world’s most populous Muslim nation anxious to display itself as a tough nut. Some offenders have sentences reduced on appeal. Not this time. I won’t diminish the scourge of drugs and the damage to people’s lives. However, I do believe in second chances. Australia’s justice system is based on the possibility of reformation in many circumstances.

The Bali Nine pair have undergone rehabilitation.

“Successive governors of Kerobokan Prison in Bali, whose prison has given Andrew and Myuran the opportunity to reflect and change, have testified to their transformation,” writes Bishop in a passionate editorial on her ministerial website. “…such is the profound effect of Andrew and Myuran’s inspiring humility and service, their fellow prisoners have come forward to lend support, even offering to take their place in execution to President Widodo.

“We will not give up hope.”

The pair’s families have been visiting them daily. Many activists also plead for their lives, including where 150,000 Australians have signed a petition.

Bishop was on the verge of tears in Parliament this week, appealing to the Indonesian government to grant a stay of execution.

“It’s a very tense situation… I think the Australian people will demonstrate their deep disapproval of this action, including by making decisions about where they wish to holiday,” she later told Fairfax radio.

Reports indicate bookings to Bali have dropped already.

The island of tropical Bali has long been a much-loved destination for Aussie travellers, lured by beaches, surfing, lifestyle, cheap booze and shopping, resorts, spas and yoga retreats. Tourism is a big part of our trade with Indonesia, with over a million Australians visiting the archipelago in 2013-14. The image of Bali is at odds with the impending executions, even though they will take place on Nusakambangan island.

Andrew and Myuran

The Bali Nine aren’t the first Australians to be caught smuggling or possessing drugs. Each time the culprits have felt the full force of Indonesian law. But this is the first time Australians have faced death.

“Indonesia’s foreign policy runs the risk of being seen through this (the death penalty) prism,” Bishop told the ABC.

Conservative Indonesia sees itself as a rising power. A punitive regional power with little flexibility? Yeah, the world really needs another one of those. Truly great nations know the power of compassion and mercy. Increasingly rare and precious commodities, it seems. Our relationship with Indonesia has been prickly in the past over asylum seekers, human trafficking and drugs, although there has also been intense neighbourly cooperation as well. Australia has also become pretty good at playing “eggshell diplomacy” with the South-East Asia nation, and Bishop is better at it than Abbott.

But I’m puzzled. Granting rehabilitation behind bars with one hand and killing with the other. It makes no sense. Andrew and Myuran don’t deserve to die.

Bali beach

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