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Letter to the editor – Bali 9 – imminent execution for taking drugs OUT of Bali

This may seem rather off topic, as it has nothing to do with Thailand, let alone Samui, but with harsh drug laws in Thailand and possible death sentence for the two Burmese accused of the Koh Tao murders, I wondered how people feel about the imminent execution of the two Australians who were part of the Bali 9. I am particularly interested in how your Australian readers feel and what we all, as ex-pats, expect of our countries in ‘death penalty’ situations.

The Bali 9 (a name given to a group of Australians) were arrested on the 17th of April 2005 in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia. They were planning to smuggle 8.3kg of heroin out of Indonesia and take it to Australia. The value of the haul would have been around four million Australian dollars. The nine involved were all between the ages of 18 and 28.

Indonesia Australian DrugsOn the 13th of February 2006, Renae Lawrence and Scott Rush were sentenced to life in jail. The very next day Michael Czugaj and Martin Stephens were also given life. Matthew Norman, Si Yi Chen and Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen were also handed down life sentences on the 15th of February 2006. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, who were deemed to be the ringleaders of the smuggling plot were sentenced to death via firing squad, these were the first ever death sentences imposed by the Denpasar District Court.

On the 26th of April 2006, Lawrence, Nguyen, Chen and Norman had their sentences reduced to 20 years on appeal. The life sentences of Czugaj and Stephens were upheld. On September 2006, as a result of appeals brought by the prosecutors, Rush, Nguyen, Ched and Norman were then sentenced to death. This came as a surprise as the prosecutors had only asked for life imprisonment.

On March 2008 Norman, Chen and Nguyen, issued death sentences on appeal had their sentences reduced to life imprisonment. On May 10th 2011 Rush’s appeal was successful and he too got life.

On September 21st 2010 ring leaders Chan and Sukumaran appealed their death sentences and hoped to reduce their jail time to twenty years, on July 2011 Sukumaran’s final judicial appeal was dismissed.

On 10th December 2014 the President of Indonesia Joko Widodo stated that he would not approve clemency for drug offenses and on the 20th of December Sukumaran’s plea for clemency was rejected, Chan’s plea for clemency was rejected on the 22nd of January this year.

bali 9 1Australian prime minister Tony Abbot and Julie Bishop, the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs made representations to Jokowi and Retno Marsudi the Indonesian Foreign Minister for Clemency.

On the 2nd of Feb this year the Attorney General confirmed that Chan and Sukumaran will face the firing squad in the next round of executions before the end of this month.

While I do not condone the use or sale, or indeed trafficking of drugs, it would seem to me that death by firing squad is a harsh punishment for drugs offences and I believe this for two reasons.

For one since Chan and Sukumaran have been in jail in Bali they seem have been completely rehabilitated. Myuran Sukumaran teaches English, computer science, graphic design and philosophy classes to other prisoners and was instrumental in opening up a computer and art room, as well as pushing for accountancy and law courses to be set up, albeit unsuccessfully he did successfully set up a business that sells artwork and clothing called the Kingpin Clothing company providing much needed income for the prison. He has also been put in charge of 20 death row inmates, also facing execution, a role that sees him liaising with the guards, resolving disputes, overseeing modest penalties for those who transgress from the duties he assigns such as cleaning, gardening and repairs to the jail. He has recently sold some art work to pay for life saving medical treatment for another inmate who could not afford medical care.

Andrew Chan has become involved in a successful relationship with a girl he met while she was visiting another prisoner, he also organizes courses in the jail, leads the English language church service and is a mentor to many. While serving his time he became a Christian.

My thoughts are that prisons are all about rehabilitating the inmates and while most of the time this does not happen, in this case the Indonesian jail system seems to have been successful.

While I can see that the power that be in Indonesia feel that with fifty deaths in the country a day due to drugs, drug dealers kill so many people, it is worth noting in my opinion that these men were trying to get drugs out of the country and therefore not contributing to the deaths due to drugs in Indonesia.

It also bothers me that the arrests came about after a tip off form the Australians who had the choice of having the 9 arrested in Bali, where the death penalty exists for such crimes, or back on Australian soil where it does not.

Where was the crime here? Surely trying to smuggle drugs into Australia from Bali was a crime against the Australians the men would have ultimately provided with the drugs and in some ways the men were removing drugs from Bali, is that a crime against Bali?

It goes without saying that crimes of any nature should be punished but death for two clearly rehabilitated men who are unlikely to commit this kind of crime again in either country is rather harsh. Knowing that you are going to be given 72 hours notice before being taken out and shot is unimaginable for the two men, who clearly were young and made a very stupid mistake, but for the families of these men, words cannot describe what they must be going through. To think that your child will not be given a second chance and will have to pay with their lives is for me unimaginable, even if knowing they will spend the rest of their lives in jail is also something I cannot ever imagine coming to terms with.

With so many getting away with horrific crimes in the west and where life very rarely seems to be life, does this seem harsh? Should the Australian government be doing more to save the lives of these men, and in turn their families? Is there more they can do or should we as fellow countrymen simply accept that if you do the crime you must face the time, even if that means death and respect that if you travel to a country where the death penalty exists then we must accept when another country chooses to end the lives of our citizens?

I would be very interested on the thoughts of other ex-pats on this topic.

Note from the editor

What do you think of the death penalty overseas? do you think it is just in this case? Below are some links on this topic, we welcome your comments.

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