This post is an expansion of a comment I left over at TNA’s gaff, and is on the subject of the recent execution of Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the ringleaders of the Bali Nine group who were arrested for smuggling a shitload of heroin out of Bali in 2005.
Firstly, Australia as a nation was entitled to, and would have been correct IMO, to oppose the execution of these two men on grounds of principle. Such a principle could have been that the death penalty should never apply in any case for a variety of reasons, for example:
1) the fallibility of any justice system;
2) the irreversibility of the sentence in the event the conviction was wrong;
3) the propensity of individuals working within justice systems worldwide to fuck over defendants in order to further their own careers (examples here).
I would have agreed with Australia formally making Indonesia aware of their opposition to the death penalty in principle, for the above reasons, before the Bali Nine were even arrested. I would have considered it perfectly reasonable for Australia to reiterate its opposition in this manner before, during, and after the sentencing. And I would have been quite okay with Australia repeating this point right up the execution and to continue to do so afterwards. Raising such objections would have been entirely possible while still recognising Indonesia’s right to manage their own affairs. Had they done so, there is a chance the Indonesians might have listened.
Instead, we got an attempt by the Australian and international media – seemingly supported by Australia’s politicians and intellectual elite – to downplay the fact that the two condemned men were unrepentant criminals who had been tried and convicted of a serious crime which would result in the harshest of sentences in any jurisdiction you care to mention. Rarely, if ever, was it noted by those supporting Chan and Sukumaran that:
Four of the seven mules were arrested at Denpasar airport with heroin strapped to their bodies, while Sukumaran and three others were detained at a Kuta hotel in possession of heroin. Chan, arrested at the airport, was not carrying drugs.
Convicting them in February 2006, the court said the pair were guilty of “illegally exporting first-class narcotics in an organised way”.
It said Chan and Sukumaran had provided money, airline tickets and hotels to the seven mules.
“There are no mitigating factors. His statements throughout the trial were convoluted and he did not own up to his actions,” Judge Arief Supratman said of Chan. Another judge, Gusti Lanang Dauh, said Sukumaran “showed no remorse”.
These two were not duped into carrying drugs, or desperate men who turned to desperate measures. The Indonesian court recognised that the other 7 were not as culpable and handed down hefty prison sentences instead of the death penalty. The court, quite rightly, recognised that these two were the head of an organised criminal enterprise without whom the smuggling would never have taken place. This distinction was barely mentioned by all those campaigning for clemency, mainly because the main message being peddled by Australian politicians and the media was that actually the two are pretty good eggs after all:
Multiple advocates for the pair said they became very different in jail to the young men sentenced to death by the court.
Chan, 31, ran Bible study classes in Bali’s Kerobokan jail, while Sukumaran, 33, became a keen artist.
The son of restaurant owners, and a former part-time cook, Chan also ran a cooking school in Kerobokan prison.
Sukumaran’s mother told News Limited that her son was also “rehabilitating” and had set up several courses in prison, including those in philosophy and art.
This rubbish is insulting to read, yet it was wheeled out again and again. Bible classes, learning to paint, and cooking – the three things which were mentioned most often – does not constitute a single shred of evidence that the two were reformed. I suspect a cursory glance at death row and lifer inmates worldwide would show most are engaged in some sort of artistic or instructional endeavour, mainly to stave off boredom. And any regret they may have is an utter irrelevance: few criminals do not have regrets when receiving a harsh sentence, particularly those on death row for drug smuggling. What might have convinced the Indonesians that the two had reformed was an admission of their guilt, a full and detailed description as to the extent of their operation and methods employed, and a request that their supporters in Australia desist from insulting the Indonesians any further by refusing to respect the court which convicted them.
Because if I was an Indonesian, hell I’d have been spitting feathers. By all means, make the principled stand I described earlier but whipping up a media frenzy which overlooks the pair’s incontrovertible guilt and their leadership role, complete with accusations of corruption, threats of boycotts, withdrawal of ambassadors, and the casual dismissal of the sovereign right of Indonesia to try and sentence criminals apprehended on their own turf in accordance with their own laws. There were times when the Australians might as well have said “Listen brown folk, we know you’re all corrupt and we are your superior neighbours, so let our citizens go free and we’ll allow you to sit with us at the next regional summit.” Would Australia have dared to behave like this had the two ended up on death row in California? Would they hell. Would Australia have been happy about the Indonesian government protesting an Australian court ruling in such a manner? No they would not.
Whatever chance the condemned men had of being spared before they were shot on 29th April, this was surely extinguished by the frankly disgraceful behaviour of Australia’s politicians and media. No doubt the Indonesians will be blamed for years for the death of a “young, shy Australian man” and his mate who is “funny, articulate… charismatic and has a very caring personality”. But Australia ought to shoulder the blame for ensuring their sentence would be carried out by insulting the Indonesians to such an extent that they had little choice but to do otherwise.
They were a nasty pair of criminals who chose to break the laws of another country and persuade others to do the same. The Indonesians should not have sentenced them to death or carried out the executions, but even after doing so they come away from this sordid affair looking better than the Australians. For the latter, having not actually shot anybody, that’s quite some achievement.