Australian Pair Facing Execution in Indonesia

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Australian Pair Facing Execution in Indonesia

What implications would the executions have for relations between the two neighbors?

Australian Pair Facing Execution in Indonesia
Credit: REUTERS/Murdani Usman

Australia is still trying to save the lives of two of its citizens from execution in Indonesia. Two of the ringleaders of the so-called Bali Nine convicted ten years ago of trying to smuggle more than 8 kilograms of heroin from Indonesia to Australia, may possibly soon be executed.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott asked that Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran be spared on the grounds that had reformed during their ten years in prison. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Monday that there were no plans to withdraw Australian diplomats from Indonesia at this point and has not yet commented publicly on what will happen should the two be executed. It is Australia’s policy to oppose the execution of any of its nationals overseas.

The Sydney Morning Herald earlier reported that Bishop had said there had been “dozens” of meetings between the nations since the sentencing of the Bali Nine and that keeping the diplomats in the country to lobby the government was a necessity. The Netherlands and Brazil both withdrew ambassadors from the Indonesian capital after their citizens were executed by firing squad the weekend just past. Ambassadors from the other foreign national’s home nations – Vietnam, Malawi and Nigeria – did not recall their ambassadors. Last year Vietnam sentenced an Australian to death for drug trafficking.

“I have personally raised these matters with the President of Indonesia. Australia opposes the death penalty. We oppose it at home, and abroad,” said Tony Abbott. “Because in the end, mercy has to be a part of every justice system, including the Indonesian one.” He said there was evidence both men had reformed and that should be counted in their bid for clemency.

“In the end Indonesia while it is a good and close friend of Australia, it is a sovereign country. They do have their own judicial system,” said Abbott.

However, both Sukumaran and Chan have lost their bids for clemency.  The Australian press reports that lawyers will be filing for a judicial review of both cases, which may stall things further. However given Indonesian president Joko Widodo’s hardline stance on drugs it is believed unlikely the two will be spared, despite personal pleas from Abbott.

Under the John Howard-led Liberal government ten years ago, of which Abbott was a member, the Australian Federal Police shared information with their Indonesian counterparts which led to the arrests of the nine young Australians in Indonesia. Given Indonesia’s record of executing drug offenders, that action was condemned. Why not simply arrest them upon arrival in Australia?

Would the execution of Chan and Sukumaran harm Australia’s relations with Indonesia? From the public caution displayed by the prime minister and his foreign minister it seems possibly not, even as they continue to appeal and protest on humanitarian grounds.

Helen Clark was based in Hanoi for six years as a reporter and magazine editor. She has written for two dozen publications including The Diplomat (as Bridget O’Flaherty), TimeThe Economist, the Asia Times Online and the Australian Associated Press.