This is a guest post by a long term Territorian who has lived in Indonesia and who is currently working as a Crown Prosecutor and who chooses to remain anonymous for professional reasons.
For those who have been trying to prevent the execution of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, the unexpected deferral of that execution provides a precious opportunity. It is an opportunity to fundamentally rethink the approach which has been adopted so far and to recalibrate the “message” accordingly.
The emphasis to date has been on the impressive success story of the pair’s rehabilitation within Kerobokan Prison, including the assistance they have provided to other inmates. The well-coordinated information campaign within Australia has had the effect of convincing the most Australians as to the merit of their cause. That was important because prior to that campaign there was a degree of scepticism if not suspicion on the part of many Australians. And in order for a convincing pitch to be made to Indonesia a threshold requirement was always going to be that Australia as a nation was fully supportive.
But this matter will not be played out or determined by reference to the Australian court of public opinion. President Widodo and those who advise him will act on the perceived views of the Indonesian public. The notional average Indonesian will take some note of the Sukumaran and Chan human interest story, but at the end of the day it will be outweighed by the inevitable schadenfreude regarding the predicament of any foreigner from a privileged country who finds himself ensnared in their criminal justice system. Especially when the government is running hard with populist declarations to the effect that there should be no exceptions, no special treatment.
An appeal for mercy predicated on the cruelty of the death penalty has been and was always going to be ineffective, if not counter-productive.
Guy Rundle noted in his Crikey piece on 17 February 2015 that, “the values that undergird the death penalty are the need for social terror, to implant the horror of it, of dying like that, in the collective breast”.
From the point of view of the Indonesian government, the concept of the death penalty as a deterrent is damaged and undermined if foreigners from friendly countries are reprieved. For our Prime Minister to have made motherhood statements about the sanctity of human life, while at the same time hinting at repercussions for Indonesia in terms of future aid and other assistance was clueless. The riposte it received – orang akan terlihat warna sebarnya (a person’s true colours will be revealed) – was predictable and devastating.
So what is the message that Australians, and in particular the Australian government, should be sending, as broadly and directly as possible, to the Indonesian public? It is that the rationale given by President Widodo for not making an exception in relation to Sukumaran and Chan is patently false on the known facts. That rationale is that drug traffickers must be executed because the drug trade is having such a toxic effect on Indonesia that 50 people are dying a day – necessarily a reference to the drug trade in Indonesia.
Sukumaran and Chan were not involved in trafficking drugs to Indonesians. Bali was just a way -station for them. Their 8 kilograms of heroin was bound for Perth, and it was going to be Australians who would have been affected by their crime.
By contrast some foreigners on the Indonesian death row list have unquestionably been involved in the drug trade in Indonesia. Maximising Sukumaran and Chan’s chances of survival unfortunately requires the metaphorical abandonment of such others, at least for the time being.
The most recent official AFP line being run in the media was that all would be revealed in due course, but only after all clemency appeals had been finalised/exhausted. The suggestion seemed to be that formally confirming the obvious (i.e. that the AFP opted to hand Australian scalps over to their Indonesian law enforcement counterparts) might negatively impact on the clemency process.
It is a bizarre and unacceptable position which must be debunked as soon as possible. The disclosure by the AFP of the information which led to the arrest of the Bali 9 in Indonesia (and to subsequent action taken by Indonesian Police in Jakarta) should be the lynch pin of the pleas being made on behalf of Sukumaran and Chan.
It is only by foregrounding the Australian disclosure that we will be able to press home our best point. Namely, that we have sacrificed the opportunity to punish our own criminals in order to assist Indonesia. It is the sole extraordinary or exceptional circumstance capable of persuading Indonesians that Sukumaran and Chan should be spared.