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Death row: a tragic reminder for Australian travellers

The execution in Indonesia of six death row prisoners early last Sunday, including five foreigners, convicted of drug smuggling and the refusal by president Joko Widodo to grant clemency from the death penalty for Myuran Sukumaran has cast into sharp relief his likely fate and that of fellow death row prisoner Andrew Chan.

Chan's appeal for clemency has not yet been decided by President Widodo but, consistent with his decision on Sukumaran, he has said that he will not grant clemency to convicted drug smugglers.

Widodo, or 'Jokowi' as he is better known, came to the Indonesian presidency last year as a reformist and with what was understood to be a human rights agenda. Human rights advocates in Indonesia have been dismayed by his refusal to grant clemency in death row cases.

From Jokowi's perspective, however, there are two issues driving him in these cases. Both are compelling, if for different reasons, and both play against Australian calls for clemency.

The first issue is that Jokowi came to office on a clear 'reform' platform, which includes both respect for the rule of law and opposition to interference in the judicial process. Indonesia's judiciary has long been regarded as compromised by special interests, including political pressure, so Jokowi's refusal to involve himself in judicial matters is consistent with his view of reform.

As a country which opposes the death penalty on principle, Australia's government is obliged to seek clemency on behalf of its citizens. Australia's political leaders, including Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, have done so, no doubt sincerely, but knowing their chances of success are limited.

As importantly, the death penalty applies equally to Indonesian citizens as foreigners, and any sense that there should be an inconsistency on this basis is repugnant to many Indonesians. In particular, many Indonesians' often well-developed sense of national pride would be deeply offended by any such a double-standard.

Jokowi is not only sensitive to this, but also sensitive to the fact that Indonesia's legislature, the DPR, is overwhelmingly stacked with his opponents. If he wishes to proceed with his reform agenda, he will require the DPR's cooperation.

Many DPR members are focusing closely on Jokowi's public acts and would be quick to pounce if there was even a hint of a double-standard. Indeed, there is even a chance that Jokowi could be impeached, as happened to one of his predecessors, president Abdurrahman Wahid. Public pressure within Indonesia, then, while often not explicit, is great.

How Australia represents its case for clemency is also critical. If Australia's appeal is too private then it can be dismissed without much ado. For Australia's domestic audience, too, the Australian Government would be seen to be doing too little for Australian citizens facing execution.

However, if Australian representations are too strong, it could engender a nationalist backlash. This would have the effect of further compelling Jokowi to reject any call for clemency that he might otherwise have been considering.

Australia's political leaders know there is little they can realistically do to alter the circumstances that Sukumaran and Chan now find themselves in. The only hope, such as it is, is that at this stage Chan's appeal for presidential clemency has not yet been rejected.

Indonesia's practice is that, when more than one person is sentenced to death for the same offence, the penalty is carried out simultaneously. Sukumaran last opportunity for appeal has failed, but Chan has not yet been notified of the same outcome. While Chan remains alive, so does Sukumaran.

However, if and when Chan's appeal for clemency is rejected by the president, the process will move relatively quickly. Probably within weeks, the pair will be given three days notification of their execution in order to finalise any outstanding business. They will then be taken to an execution ground and shot by a 12 man firing squad.

Despite the crimes for which Sukumaran and Chan have been convicted, there is a sense shared by many that the impersonal process of the state - any state - taking someone's life is bureaucratically grotesque. Yet, as various foreign ministers and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have consistently said over many years, Australians overseas will always be subject to the laws on the countries they are in, up to and including the death penalty.

It is little comfort that Sukumaran and Chan's experience is serving as a stark object lesson to others who might be contemplating drug trafficking. It has been a decade since the last Australian, Van Tuong Nguyen, was executed for drug trafficking in Singapore. That death came 12 years after Australian Michael McAuliffe was killed in Malaysia.

It seems, with the passage of time, that such lessons are too easily forgotten. It is likely, however, that Australia will soon be reminded.

Schapelle slips the system, but faces a world of attention

Short of a bureaucratic snafu, which is always possible, Australian convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby will be released on parole from Indonesia’s Kerobokan prison within days. She's breaking new ground.
Parole is relatively uncommon in Indonesia, primarily because parolees have to be accepted back into the community in which they intend to reside. Many communities have been unwilling to accept convicted criminals, but Corby’s sister Mercedes and Balinese brother-in-law, Wayan Widyartha, appear to have secured support from their local community in central Kuta.
Indonesian Justice Minister Amir Syamsuddin has said Corby will not receive any special consideration for or against as he considers some 1700 applications for parole over the next few days. She will, he says, be treated as would any other prisoner.
Corby has refused to acknowledge guilt over smuggling marijuana into Indonesia, which has been a significant factor in ensuring that she did not have her prison sentence fully commuted. However, this should not be a factor in whether or not she is paroled.
This is a positive sign for Corby, as there have been cases in the past where judicial decisions have been influenced by political considerations. Clearly, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono does not consider Corby’s potential parole as a political issue, although he is attempting to put forward a candidate in this year’s presidential election in July, and despite the damaged state of Australia-Indonesia relations.
It shows, too, that the Indonesian judicial process is, or appears to be, operating in a straight and transparent manner, at least at the top. This has sometimes not been the case in the past.
As for Corby, assuming all goes according to plan, she will live with her sister and brother-in-law. She will be free to stay elsewhere in Indonesia, so long as she informs the local police of her intended whereabouts.
The catch, such as it is, is that she cannot leave Indonesia until her sentence is completed in 2016. She must also stay in Indonesia for a further year to assure Indonesian authorities that her parole has proven she is of reformed character.
On the scale of hardships, however, and especially after eight years in an Indonesian prison, living in Bali for the next three years should be relatively comfortable. This will be especially so if she is able to moderate any comments she might make to an enthusiastic media. Getting the local community offside with injudicious observations would be the last thing she would want over the coming months and years.
Perhaps the biggest adjustment that Corby will have to make is simply that of coming to terms with her prison experience. There have been indications, at different times, that she has been psychologically troubled by the experience.
More positively, that time will have ensured that Corby is at least familiar with the wider cultural mores of Indonesia generally and of Bali in particular. One would expect, too, after such time, she would have learned some Indonesian, which, although far from necessary in much of Bali, is always more rather than less helpful.
After her experience in prison, Corby’s next biggest challenge will be how she handles intense media attention. If she is able to secure a financially lucrative media deal, such as for an exclusive interview, she would be wise to be discreet about being rewarded, in effect, for her conviction for breaking the law.
Beyond that, we should not read into this parole any potential leniency for the so-called Bali Nine. They are still in very deep trouble.

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