Shock. Disbelief. Anger. Those were some of the emotions expressed by Australians today at the unconfirmed reports of the execution of convicted drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in Indonesia.
Many people were still clinging to the hope of a last-minute clemency, as seems to have been awarded to Filipina mother-of-two Mary Jane Voloso (see report here).
As per my recent post on the prevalence of the death penalty around Asia, and the attitudes of many voting publics, I’m fully aware Australia’s position on executions differs to our neighbours. I’m also aware that many readers and even other correspondents of Asian Correspondent believe the death penalty is justified in this circumstance.
However in Australia the idea of rehabilitation is central to our prison systems and the concept of forgiveness permeates our society. One of the saddest facts in this case has been that Indonesia has chosen not to place merit in the achievement of its prison system to rehabilitate its inmates and the fact that these men became model prisoners within that system.
I also had an interesting conversation recently with my Chinese-Indonesian accountant in Australia who said he had changed his mind on issues such as the death penalty since coming to live in Australia.
“My feeling now is that they should be forgiven,” he told me, “but I wouldn’t have thought that a few years ago. My thinking has changed since living here.”
Dignity in death is also a central and important facet in Australia no matter what a person has done. And reports that Chan and Sukumaran’s families were jostled by a media scrum after their final meeting with their sons and brothers, is, as Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on ABC’s 7.30 Report, “ghastly”:
I’m obviously deeply disturbed at some of the aspects of how this has been handled.
I think the ghastly process that the family have been put through today just underscores how chaotic this has been.
I’m very concerned for the family. They do deserve respect and they do deserve to have dignity shown to them at this time of unspeakable grief.
But that doesn’t seem to have been extended to them at this time.
It also seems that the Indonesian government did not extend Australia an official notification about the men’s pending executions, although the Indonesian Attorney General did confirm the executions were to go ahead – but that was to reporters in Jakarta. A deliberate affront perhaps to Australia’s continued pressure on the government to stay the executions?
Chan and Sukumaran were also reportedly denied their choice of spiritual adviser leading up to the executions, although the SBS reported later that that decision was reversed.
Whatever your stance on the death penalty, it would seem the way in which the executions have been handled has hardly given the prisoners and their families the rights and dignity they deserve.
Chinthu Sukumaran said of the ordeal:
To walk out of there and say goodbye for the last time, it’s torture. No family should go through that. There has to be a moratorium on the death penalty, no family should endure it.
Should there therefore be political or other repercussions for Indonesia?
Absolutely. What that entails will be a matter for the government and withdrawing the ambassador to Indonesia may be a step they wish to take, as indicated by Julie Bishop.
But the repercussions for Indonesia should really take the form of continued, unyielding pressure to put a stop to the death penalty. That pressure on the Indonesian government shouldn’t stop with their execution, if anything it should only intensify.
Chan and Sukumaran were victims of a flawed Indonesian justice system. Their execution will achieve very little in Indonesia, either in recognising the success of Indonesian prisons to rehabilitate their inmates, in dissuading future drug smugglers or even preventing drug addiction in the country.
Chinthu Sukumaran told SBS that killing his brother wouldn’t stop drug trafficking.
If these nine people die today, tomorrow, next week, next month, it’s still not going to stop anything.
But perhaps what their death can achieve is a concerted push to eradicate the death penalty in Indonesia. Indeed that was one of the last wishes voiced by the duo as reported by their lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis:
Myuran told me, thank you for believing in us and please fight for the abolition of the death penalty.
Australians don’t and have never believed the Bali Nine should not have been punished. The form of that punishment however was the core of the issue, and perhaps also the manner in which it was carried out.
The fact that people can change and that Sukumaran and Chan were vastly different men from the stupid boys they were a decade ago is something the Indonesian system failed to grasp. People can be rehabilitated. They can change. There is always hope and in the end that is always a far more powerful message than shooting the messenger.
In our mourning for the lives of these two young men, Australians will also mourn the huge opportunities lost this week in their execution. We may be amongst the few in the Asia-Pacific region to do so but we can also take up the Bali Nine duo’s call that this should never happen to anyone else again.