Humans under fire

Andrew Chan, left, and Myuran Sukumaran, right awaiting trial in 2006
Andrew Chan, left, and Myuran Sukumaran, right awaiting trial in 2006

By Aoife Lawless

On the 29th April 2015 eight men were executed by firing squad in Indonesia for drug trafficking crimes. Among them were the two named ring leaders of the infamous Bali Nine, the Australian group who attempted to smuggle 8.3kg of heroin from Bali into Australia.

After lengthy drawn out legal proceedings spanning nine years, the two were finally executed at midnight on the 29th April. They were led into the forest and given the choice of standing kneeling or sitting for the ordeal. The two Australian men had vowed to stay strong in the face of death, wishing their families to have an image of strength in their final moments.

They sang ‘Amazing Grace’ as they marched to their final destiny and refused to wear blindfolds as they faced their executors on ‘execution island’, Nusa Kambangan, Bali.

In 2013 the moratorium on the death penalty in Indonesia was lifted and in March of that year a Malawi national was the first person to be executed there in four years.  The execution was carried out by firing squad. The crime; drug trafficking.

In November 2014 Indonesia saw the election of a new president, Joko Widodo. The young President Widodo, a former street kid from Jakarta, has taken a firm stance on the death penalty for drug trafficking since his election. In January the fresh faced young president caused much controversy when he ordered the first round of executions under his rule; six foreigners by firing squad.

The six were made up of Dutch, Brazilian, Nigerian, Malawian, Indonesian and Vietnamese men all on death row for drug trafficking. Both the Dutch and Brazilian leaders fought hard against the death penalty for their citizens. All pleas for the lives of their countrymen were in vain. The two countries were so outraged by the deaths that they pulled their ambassadors from Indonesia post execution.

President Widodo did not waste time lining up a second round of death row prisoners and in February gave notice to another group of people that their executions were imminent.

Amongst the second round were the two Australian men Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran from Sydney. These two men were named as the ring leaders of a drug trafficking syndicate known as the Bali nine. The group of nine young Australians were arrested in 2005 for attempting to smuggle 8.3kg of heroin from Indonesia to Australia. While the other seven members were given life imprisonment Chan and Sukumaran were given a death sentence.

In 2015 when the two men received notice of their executions they had served almost ten years in Keroboken prison, Bali.

The Australian government made numerous appeals for clemency on behalf of these two as they have proven to be fully rehabilitated in their nine years of incarceration.

Myuran Sukumaran studied fine art and went on to teach art classes at Keroboken prison to young inmates. He also held several art exhibitions with many of his art works selling worldwide. His last wish was to be allowed to continue painting until the very last moment. Many of his final works were self portraits, emulating the trauma and emotional upheaval he was experiencing in his last days.

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Andrew Chan studied Theology and had attempted to become a Pastor. He held bible studies classes with other offenders. He also taught cooking classes in the prison and was well liked and respected in his nine years at the prison. He married his long term girlfriend on the eve of his execution with all his family present. This was his last wish. He made time to visit with other inmates on death row to say final goodbyes and say “It was good knowing you mate” before being led to his death. Unusually, Chan wrote his own eulogy which was read aloud by a friend at his funeral in Sydney. “It is even in death there is still a lesson to be learnt. We learn that you don’t need to be old to die, nor do we need to have something wrong with us, but we learn that when it’s time to go home, God has the kitchen table and sink ready.”

The eight men executed on April 29th were not given the traditional ‘last meal’ requests and instead shared a last supper of KFC chicken fast food.

Human rights

The case of the two Aussie men have highlighted many issues regarding human rights for prisoners held on death row in Indonesia. The first question, of course, lies with Indonesia and how they assess prisoners on death row without evaluating rehabilitation. The UN chief Ban Ki-moon publicly implored with Indonesia for clemency prior to the executions.

As well as these issues, Australia’s unstoppable legal forces refusing to take no for an answer and dragging the case out further and further must surely have had an impact on the mentality of the convicted, as they were not being given the chance to have time for acceptance of their fate and were instead constantly being given false hope.

Andrew Chan confided in a friend that he “never believed it would actually happen”, in regards to the death sentence. Not surprisingly, as the two men had been held in Keroboken for nine years and observed the moratorium on the death penalty.

The two men were young when initially arrested, Chan was 21 years old and Sukumaran was 23 years old. When their lives were ended they were 31 years old and 33 years old.

British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford, 58, remains on death row in Keroboken prison where she was a prison mate and close friend of Andrew Chans. Sandiford was arrested in May 2012 on arrival to Bali from Bangkok, Thailand. She was found with 4.8kg of cocaine in the lining of her suitcase and sentenced to death.

Sandiford maintains that she was forced to smuggle the drugs by a drugs gang who were threatening to harm her family if she did not carry out the crime.

She has spoken of her grief over losing her friend and how it is has resolved her to her own fate. She said “if they can execute someone as good as Andrew, what hope is there for me?”. In solidarity with the recently deceased Sandiford has vowed to also sing in the face of her executioners and refuse a blindfold. Her chosen anthem is ‘Magic Moments’ by Perry Como. Chan and Myuran sang the hauntingly beautiful tune of ‘Amazing Grace’, a highly apt and profound melody under the circumstances.

Sandiford has stated, since the recent executions, that she just ‘wants to get it over with’. She no longer holds out any hope for clemency, despite her claim that she was forced into smuggling drugs under the duress that her family were threatened if she did not do so. British legal teams have withdrawn from her cause, claiming they have no further avenues to pursue in her case and that fees have been exhausted. Sandiford reached out to comedian turned activist Russell Brand after he released a video condemning the execution of Sukumaran and Chan through his youtube broadcast ‘The Trews’.

The most disheartening factor in the case of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran is the lack of acknowledgement of their massive attempts at rehabilitation while incarcerated. Numerous individuals in contact with the two men spoke of their drastic change and mission to rehabilitate other young offenders, even setting up programmes within the prison which did not exist prior to their time.

Indonesia remains one of the remaining few countries to impose the death penalty. Amnesty reports that 140 countries dropped the death penalty in 2013. It also reports that  “In 2013, 22 countries around the world were known to have carried out executions and at least 57 to have imposed death sentences”.

Since 2013 Indonesia has executed 19 people. The president has no intention of stopping there. If proven rehabilitated prisoners will not receive clemency, there wouldn’t appear to be much hope for the remaining inmates of death row.

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