On a small island off the coast of Central Java called Nusakambangan, two Australian men sit in isolation cells awaiting their execution by firing squad. Their names are Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. They are 31 and 33 years old respectively.
Ten years ago they did an incredibly stupid and illegal thing. With the assistance of seven other young Australians, they attempted to smuggle 8.3 kilograms of heroin out of Indonesia to Australia. Andrew and Myu were the ringleaders of the operation, which was cut short by their arrest (along with the other seven) as they prepared to fly out of Bali in 2005. Acting on a tip off from the Australian Federal Police, the Indonesian police arrested the majority of the Bali Nine (as they have become known in Australia) in a Bali hotel room. Andrew Chan was taken off a flight about to leave for Sydney. Seven of the Bali nine were sentenced to life in prison, while Andrew and Myu were given the death penalty. Numerous legal appeals and petitions for clemency have all been rejected.
No one denies that what Andrew and Myu did was reckless, thoughtless, and against the law. They knew that if they were caught, the Indonesian judicial system could impose the death penalty. In the years since they were sentenced in 2006, Andrew and Myu have lived in Kerobokan jail and have been completely rehabilitated judging by all reports. Andrew has embraced Christianity and has worked as a social worker in the prison. He qualified as a pastor in January. Myu has become a painter and has set up art classes in the prison, classes to which many former inmates return due to the benefits they obtain from their participation. He was awarded an associate degree in Fine Arts by Curtin University in Perth last week. The two men are now acknowledged as gentle and loving leaders within the prison population. The prison governor lauds them as model prisoners and examples to their peers.
Until the recent election of President Joko Widodo, Indonesia had not carried out any executions for some years. In fact, if prisoners had been on death row for 10 years and had proved that they had been rehabilitated, their death sentences were generally commuted to life imprisonment. However, President Widodo appears to want to be seen to be harsh on drug crime and has recommenced executing drug felons.
Andrew and Myu were transferred from Bali to Nusakembangan on Tuesday morning. They were taken by (literally) hundreds of balaclava-ed military police and transported in armoured vehicles. Military jets armed with missiles flew overhead. Grim photos of the handcuffed men being led across the tarmac to the commercial charter flight that would take them to Nusakembangan have been widely published. Bizarre photos of a senior Indonesian police commissioner posing for “happy snaps” with Andrew and Myu on the plane have emerged. The Australian Government is making formal protests to the Indonesian government over the release of these degrading photos and the disproportionate use of force involved in Andrew and Myu’s transfer.
In the meantime, Andrew and Myu sit in their isolation cells waiting to be told that they will be shot in 72 hours. No one knows when they will be told this other than it is imminent. Then, at the seventy second hour, they will be led to a field with 8 other drug felons. It will be the middle of the night. A firing squad of 12 police officers will be assembled for each of the 10 convicts. Andrew and Myu will be tied to a pole and their firing squad will shoot at their hearts. Only 3 of the 12 executioners in each firing squad will have live rounds in their guns. If they do not die immediately, a commando will shoot Andrew and Myu in the head at point blank range.
I have always opposed the death penalty in all its forms wherever imposed and for whatever crime. Judicial murder – state sanctioned killing – is not justice. However, the horror of the death penalty is being rammed home to me while we watch helplessly as these men prepare themselves for their brutal deaths. Over 200,000 Australians have signed a mercy petition, and representations and pleas for clemency have been made at the highest level. The Indonesian Government shows no signs of heeding our desperate diplomatic efforts.
I Stand for Mercy.