28 Apr 2015

Indonesia deaf to pleas to spare death row drugs convicts

The pending executions of nine Indonesian and foreign nationals on drug offences have strained the country’s relations with the international community and, in particular, Australia.

The family of Myuran Sukumaran, a 34-year-old Australian convicted of drug smuggling in Indonesia, are hoping for a miracle – but it seems clear that their desperate prayers will go unanswered.

Their distress and anxiety was plainly visible this morning as they arrived at the prison on the remote island of Nusakambangan. This spot has another name – Execution Island – and it is here that Mr Sukumaran and eight others are scheduled to die.

The Indonesian government put the prisoners – and the rest of the world – on notice 72 hours ago, signalling its determination to proceed with what is believed to be the biggest mass execution in this country for decades. The firing squad could begin its gruesome task as soon as 12:01 am tomorrow Indonesian time.

For relatives of the nine convicts, who hail from Australia, Brazil, France, Nigeria, the Philippines and Indonesia, today offered the sort of opportunity that was both unwanted and impossible to refuse – the chance to say goodbye.

Supporters of Australian convicted drug traffickers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran light candles during a vigil in Sydney

Supporters of Australian convicted drug traffickers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran light candles during a vigil in Sydney, Australia (Reuters)

Members of Myuran Sukumaran’s family wept as they walked towards the prison, inching their way through a crowd of reporters. His sister Brinta could barely walk, her arms draped around the shoulders of accompanying relatives, but together they could not turn back – the prisoners will no longer be allowed to receive visitors after 2pm.

Both Mr Sukumaran and another Australian facing the firing squad, 31-year-old Andrew Chan, were arrested in 2005 for attempting to smuggle 18.5 pounds of heroin out of Indonesia. Members of the so-called “Bali Nine”, both men have admitted their guilt and claim the judges who handed down their sentences offered to impose lighter penalties in exchange for bribes.

Similarly, Brazilian Rodrigo Gularte was sentenced to death in 2005 for drug offences but his family says the 42-year-old is mentally ill, having suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder since he was a teenager. Mr Gularte was denied legal representation at his original trial when his lawyer ran off with his fee.

Also due to be executed is Mary Jane Veloso, a 30-year-old maid from the Philippines. She says her godmother’s daughter offered her employment in Indonesia, asking her to bring a case with her before she took up the job. Police found 6 pounds of heroin concealed within the bag at an airport in Java.

The pending executions have strained Indonesia’s relations with the international community and in particular, their near-neighbours in Australia.

Julie Bishop, the Australian foreign affairs minister, said she was still trying to halt the executions.

“While they are still alive, there is still hope and I will continue to advocate all throughout today.”

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd tweeted out his own appeal:

Meanwhile, Australian celebrities, including Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush, have made a video entitled “Save our boys, Mr. Abbott”, urging the current prime minister, Tony Abbott, to fly to the Indonesian capital Jakarta on a rescue mission.

Pleas for mercy have been made worldwide. Filipino boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao, currently in the United States for a title fight, made a televised appeal on behalf of his countrywoman, Mary Jane Veloso: “I am begging and knocking on your kind heart that your excellency will grant executive clemency to her.”

Despite the pressure, it seems the Indonesians are not listening. The country’s President, Joko Widodo, calls drug abuse a “national emergency” and plans to execute another 64 prisoners for drugs offences by the end of the year. It is not known whether British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford, who was sentenced to death two years ago for smuggling cocaine, will find herself in the next round of executions.

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