The Bali Nine executions require a wider view

The execution of the Bali Nine duo, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran has polarised views. Some feel the execution was just, others have outrightly condemned it, many feel their sentences should have been commuted to life imprisonment. However, after reading the many different takes on the matter, it has become clear that a wider view is required.

Some have condemned them for ruining ordinary Indonesian lives, some feel the Australian response is blown out of proportion. The duo have been a passing thought for me when mentioned in news clippings and only in the days leading to their execution have I paid more attention.

This is a saga that has played out over an entire decade, with many different players and angles. And the truth of the matter is, very few of us have been paying attention.

1. They were smuggling drugs out of Indonesia, not into it.

The tragic irony of this situation is that the people most likely to be affected by the pair were the residents of Sydney and not the residents of Surabaya. The Bali Nine were arrested while attempting to smuggle Heroin out of Indonesia and not into it. While Indonesia grapples with a crippling drug crisis, it is worth mentioning that the Bali Nine are not directly responsible for it.

A better argument would be made that their actions fuel and support Indonesian drug cartels and manufacturers, who are directly responsible for Indonesia’s drug problems. But..

2. Indonesia nullified the death sentence of an Indonesian drug manufacturer

The same panel of judges that rejected Chan and Sukumaran appeals, overturned a death sentence to Hengky Gunawan, a methamphetamine manufacturer who was arrested with 11 kilograms of the drug. In addition, his factory was seized with enough raw materials to produce nearly USD $11.3m of Crystal Meth.

3. The judicial process was a farce

Chan, Sukurmaran and Gunawan were case files 37, 38 and 39 respectively. Immediately after dismissing appeals for the pair, the same panel of judges changed Gunawan’s death sentence to 15 years in prison, on the grounds that “ the death penalty violated Article 28 of the Indonesian constitution, which guarantees everyone the right to life.”. Along with Judge Imron Anwari declaring that “the purpose of criminal sentencing was to educate, correct and prevent additional wrongdoing.”

But the story does not stop there, because days before the sentence could be uploaded into the Indonesia Judicial System, Gunawan prison sentence was mysteriously amended to 12 years by Supreme Court Judge Achmad Yamanie. Judge Achmad was later dishonourably discharged for violating the code of ethics and code of conduct of judges.

This happened alongside a string of bribery accusations where the pair were offered reduced sentences if they offered a monetary incentive to the judges. These remain as accusations and it remains un-investigated.

4. Double standards all round

After the 2002 Bali Bombings, Australian anger at their 88 dead prompted then Prime Minster John Howard to declare, “I find it impossible myself as an Australian, as Prime Minister, and as an individual, to argue that those executions should not take place when they have murdered my fellow countrymen and women.” Howard was one of six former Australian prime ministers to plead for clemency for the Bali Nine duo.

However, of the 70 terrorists responsible for the 2002 and 2005 bombings, only 13 remain in prison, with 57 having been granted early release. Indonesian police estimate that at least 14 of them have rejoined terrorist cells. As Business Insider jokes, “it’s lucky the bali bombers didn’t have drugs on them”.

What makes the situation even more perplexing is that abroad, Indonesia is a strong advocate against the death penalty, having requested clemency for nearly 200 of their citizens. These range across a string of offences from drug trafficking to premeditated murders. In the most bizarre case, the Indonesian government stepped in at the eleventh hour to save an Indonesian maid on death row in Saudi Arabia, paying nearly USD$1.8m in financial compensation. She admitted to murdering her 70 year old employer in self-defense after she was caught stealing $10,000. Indonesian President Joko Widodo has ordered that no effort be spared to secure the release of Indonesians on death row around the world.

5. It’s politically motivated

Depending on which poll you read, in his first 100 days in office, President Widodo has seen his approval ratings drop drastically, with one poll reporting that 74.6% of Indonesians were unsatisfied with his performance. He can ill-afford to see those ratings drop further and bowing to international pressure would cost him dearly. His firm stance on illegal drug trafficking allows him to appear strong and firm against what he rightly calls a “national drug crisis”. He has taken this stance further by repeatedly declaring that he will “reject the clemency applications of all drug offenders on death row”.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/indonesia-executions-strain-ties-overseas-boost-widodo-at-home-1430297240

6. Which may be unlawful

Governments are run through a series of check and balances. In Singapore, the Cabinet holds executive power, making key decisions on economic, social and security issues, while the President has custodial powers, allowing him to veto decisions on our national reserves, religious harmony and internal security. In 2009, the government had to seek approval from then President SR Nathan to draw an additional $4.9 billion past our financial reserves to prop up the economy.

This process is important as it allows a credible third party to oversee and act upon malicious intent. It is very unlikely that our $4.9 billion was siphoned off to corrupt officials but we can also rest easily knowing that our system ensures it shouldn’t happen. Likewise, Indonesia has a similar system. Death sentences are passed down by the Judicial system, a system that the President has no control over. He can however, offer clemency to death row inmates by commuting their sentences to life imprisonment.

And that is where the problem lies. By outrightly rejecting all drug offenders for clemency, with no assessment or oversight, the Supreme Court is solely responsible for these sentences. There is no oversight to ensure the process is corrupt-free, fair and lawful.

Rodrigo Gularte, one of the eight executed yesterday, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia by two separate groups of doctors. His mental health was not brought up during his original trial in 2005, after his lawyer fled, leaving him with no legal representation. Under Indonesian law, mental health patients cannot be prosecuted and must be cared for in a psychiatric hospital. The Indonesian authorities commissioned their own team of doctors to assess his condition but this report was not made public.

7. This will only worsen the drug crisis

Indonesian authorities were able to arrest the Bali Nine after a tip off from their Australian counterparts. The Australian Federal Police were in turn, alerted to the smuggling ring after a tip off from a concerned father. Lee Rush, father of Scott Rush, suspected his son might be drug mule after leaving for Indonesia with no passport, no money and a history of drug abuse. Rush was later arrested in Bali with his eight other compatriots.

These actions have brought wide spread condemnation from the Australian public, prompting one Minster of Parliament to introduce a bill that prevents police and intelligence officers from sharing information that could lead to the death penalty for an Australian.

Bluntly put, the Australian authorities would not be able to share drug trafficking information, inbound or outbound, with many South East Asian countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

8. The Indonesian prison system worked

The most innocent victim in this debacle is probably the Indonesian prison system. Quotating Judge Imron Anwari from earlier, “the purpose of criminal sentencing (is) to educate, correct and prevent additional wrongdoing”. And that is exactly what happened with Chan and Sukurmaran. I shan’t bore you with the details, with one becoming a pastor and the other a painter, but it speaks volumes when the Governor of Kerobokan Prison arrives in full military uniform to appeal at their hearing, describing them as “model prisoners” who “have had a positive influence on other prisoners”.

If anything, the Indonesian prison successfully rehabilitated these two men who could have been beacons for other people in their position. For a closer look at how these men have changed, I would really recommend taking the time to watch them here:


I am for the death penalty for the most heinous of crimes. But in a month that saw 5000 souls crushed in a deadly earthquake, 700 migrants lost in search of a better life and tens killed by senseless suicide bombers, it would have been nice to hear about some lives that were saved and offered a second chance.

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