Without mercy

I went to bed last night hoping to wake this morning to the news that Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran had been spared the firing squad. It was a forlorn hope.

For months the Australian government, lawyers, and community had lobbied to have their death sentences commuted. Appeals had been lodged and summarily dismissed, both the Indonesian legal system, and president, impervious to all pleas and consideration of due legal process. It appeared throughout that there was nothing on earth that could prevent their execution, short of a miracle. This was a political decision, and no other outcome would be entered into.

It was a strange feeling last night. They, along with seven others, were scheduled to be shot to death at midnight Indonesian time, 3am here. I sat watching TV much as I do any night, but with the knowledge that not so far from here the condemned men sat in their cells waiting to be led out to their death. I was safe and warm and secure, but felt a part of it, as did many thousands of other Australians. It was a feeling of solemn helplessness.

I woke in the night, at 3.40am. I looked at the clock and thought it has happened, if it was to happen at all. It was not something I wanted to know then, or think, and mostly something I did not want to feel. I was sure they were dead, murdered by Indonesian state sanction. I fell back into a dream laden sleep.

I had only to switch on the radio for a moment this morning to hear that they had been executed. I switched the radio off, and went about my morning preparations in unaccustomed silence. I did not want to hear commentary or reporting on what had happened. I was familiar with the lamentations, and sympathetic to them, but I did not want to burden myself with them either. It was in my mind though as I showered and dressed and got myself ready for work. I drove into work listening to music from my iPhone, instead of the usual breakfast radio.

There’s no avoiding it though. It was all the talk as soon as I walked in the door at work. There are some in the community who support their fate – people I hope never to meet or have anything to do with. Most were against it though, for a variety of reasons. I think it’s fair to say that despite the seeming inevitability of their executions there is a sense of shock abroad this morning.

It’s a cruel and brutal fact of life that two men (plus another six – one received a last-minute reprieve) had their lives extinguished overnight. Men we had come to know over the months and years of their imprisonment, and drawn out lead-up to their execution. Despite their crimes I think much of the Australian community had come to respect, and even admire these men. That’s the great and tragic pity of this. They had been truly rehabilitated, and had become good men, people who contributed to others. Their death makes a mockery of the concept of rehabilitation. It’s a stain upon Indonesia. Today sorrow is mixed with outrage.

I have not written about this until now. I hoped to have no reason to. It’s been very present for me nonetheless. I have no hesitation in proclaiming this a barbarous act of injustice.

I’m against the death penalty in general, but there are crimes you can understand where it might be applied. Not justified mind, but deep in your heart you can understand why such a person may be put to death. That’s at the extreme edge of the spectrum though, whereas the crimes these men committed, and the circumstances of their case, are at the opposite end.

These men were drug mules. Dobbed into the Indonesian police by the AFP a decade ago (who had in their power to prevent these crimes being perpetrated), they were quickly arrested and locked up. They were young and dumb. While the drug dealers who sent them on their way got away scot-free the naïve kids they got to do their dirty work were sentenced to death – with credible allegations that it was only because their defence could not meet the financial demands of the judges.

That was years ago. Over time these two men matured and grew into the prison culture. Chan became an ordained pastor. Sukumaran a very talented artist. Both conducted workshops in prison, and tended to their fellow inmates with compassion and grace. They were loved within the prison – others offered to take their place in the firing line. Even the jail administration lauded their efforts. They had reformed themselves and become considered and dignified individuals.

For 10 years they languished on death row for crimes they committed in their callow youth. They had reason and justification to appeal their sentence, but were blocked at every turn by an Indonesian legal system determined to obfuscate, delay and confuse. In this they had the implicit backing of the Inodonesian government, and in particular the president, Joko Widodo, who was immune to all pleas for mercy, and determined – for his own political ambitions – that these executions go forward.

An indication of how heinous an event this is, and contrary to justice, is that both Chan and Sukumaran had appeals listed for hearing in a couple of week’s time (as did another of the executed, a Nigerian). They died without it being heard. If that is not a travesty of justice then I don’t know what is.

The hypocrisy in all of this is that the Indonesian government actively lobbies foreign governments whenever one of its citizens is given the death penalty abroad. It has been relatively successful in this, often paying off the foreign government to grant custody of these prisoners into their care. That they will not countenance this when the boot is on the other foot is barbarous. It should be noted also, that foreign nationals are much more likely to be executed than their own citizens. There’s no doubt that the Indonesian legal system is unfair at best, and quite likely corrupt. It’s certainly prey to political interference.

From what I know of those executed alongside Chan and Sukumaran overnight there are few who seem to deserve such a fate – if any do. One was schizophrenic. Another was the poor sap who had drugs dumped at his home by a ‘friend, and was left holding the bag literally – the friend got off scot-free. The one person who was reprieved last night was a Filipino maid.

The whole thing has been a callous and inhumane circus. If there is any good to come out of this then it is that we have a greater personal understanding of how barbarous the death penalty it is, especially when it is applied so arbitrarily, and capriciously. There can be little doubt in any observers mind that this was a political event. For that reason Indonesia has seriously damaged their relations with a number of countries beyond just Australia. They have shown themselves to be backward and insular. As for Joko Widodo – a pox on him. He can never be forgiven for his part in this. If there is a hell then he will receive his just deserts there.

I can’t forget this. I wrote a week ago about how bad things just keep happening. Well this is a terrible thing, cruel, inhumane, and unnecessary. An evil, government sanctioned act. It can’t be forgiven. Truly, lest we forget.

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