Diplomatic, Financial Repercussions After Executions


APRIL 29, 2015

Supporters of Australians on death row in Indonesia Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran participate in a candlelight vigil at Martin Place in Sydney on April 28, 2015. (AFP Photo/Saeed Khan)

Jakarta. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott says Canberra will withdraw its ambassador to Indonesia following what it deemed the “cruel and unnecessary” execution of two of its citizens.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the ringleaders of a group of smugglers known as the Bali Nine, were among the eight drug convicts executed on the Nusakambangan prison island off Central Java early on Wednesday.

“Australia deeply, deeply regrets these executions in Indonesia,” Abbott said in a statement released by the Australian government.

“These executions are both cruel and unnecessary. For that reason, once all the courtesies have been extended to the Chan and Sukumaran families our ambassador will be withdrawn for consultations.”

Australia has never recalled an ambassador over a drug execution before, even during the high-profile case of 25-year-old Nguyen Tuong Van, who was put to death by Singapore in December 2005.

“It is very unusual, indeed unprecedented, for an ambassador to be withdrawn,” Abbott said, adding that he did not “want to minimize the gravity of what we’ve done.”

Abbott said the Chan and Sukumaran’s case was different from that of Nguyen.

“They were convicted of a serious crime, they served a decade in prison and now, only now, after a decade in prison have these executions been carried out,” he said.

“So, not only does there appear to have been a form of double punishment here, but these two individuals are as rehabilitated and reformed as two people can possibly be.”

However, Abbott said he wanted to maintain ties with Indonesia.

“I don’t want to personalize this because it’s important that the relationship between the Australian government and the Indonesian government continue,” he said.

“I regard myself as a friend of Indonesia. While this is a dark moment in the relationship I am confident that the relationship will be restored for the great benefit of both our countries.”

Ties were only just recovering after sinking to their lowest point in years in late 2013 after reports that Australian spies tapped the phones of then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his inner circle.

Jakarta recalled its ambassador from Canberra and suspended cooperation in several areas over the incident, including efforts to stop people-smuggling boats reaching Australia.

Australia’s military-led efforts to turn back asylum-seeker boats also angered Indonesia, with tensions growing last year after its navy admitted entering the Southeast Asian nation’s territorial waters.

An activist appeals to save the life of Mary Jane Veloso of the Philippines, in front of the Attorney General's Office in Jakarta on April 28, 2015. (Antara Photo/Yudhi Mahatma)

Gleeful executioner

Also executed on Wednesday were Rodrigo Gularte, a Brazilian diagnosed with a mental illness; Raheem Agbaje Salami, Martin Anderson, Sylvester Obiekwe Nwolise and Okwudili Oyatanze of Nigeria; and Indonesian national Zainal Abidin.

After weeks spent at times gleefully leading the charge for Indonesia to execute the drug traffickers, Attorney General H.M. Prasetyo said on Wednesday that the deaths were “not something to be happy about.”

Prasetyo gave his condolences to the families of the eight inmates he had ordered executed.

“This execution is definitely not something to be happy about, this is an unpleasant matter,” he said. “However, it is drug trafficking we are fighting, not a certain country or its people.”

Prasetyo said the executions took place by firing squad at 12:35 a.m. on Wednesday, with all eight convicts pronounced dead within 30 minutes of being shot. The executions took place simultaneously.

Prasetyo dismissed threats by Australia and Brazil to recall their respective ambassadors from Indonesia claiming such a move was usually only temporary.

A Frenchman, Serge Atlaoui, was initially part of this group to be executed, but he was granted a temporary reprieve after his lawyer managed to file a final appeal on the verge of the deadline last week.

Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso of the Philippines was saved from Wednesday’s execution after President Joko Widodo met with several activists and ministers on Tuesday following a report that a woman who was alleged to have recruited Veloso as a drug mule had surrendered herself to authorities in the Philippines.

Joko said on Wednesday that Indonesia had only postponed Veloso’s planned execution, not commuted her sentence.

“We did not cancel the execution. We only delayed it after we received a letter from the Philippine authorities about an ongoing investigation of a human trafficking case there,” he said.

The National Police, meanwhile, said they would be ready to help investigate the human trafficking case.

“We heard that Veloso was a human trafficking victim. The National Police are ready to help prove if Veloso is indeed a victim,” National Police chief Gen. Badrodin Haiti told Detik.com on Wednesday.

Veloso was arrested by customs officials at Adisucipto International Airport in Yogyakarta in April 2010 with 2.6 kilograms of heroin, after arriving on a flight from Malaysia.

Prasetyo said Veloso’s testimony was still needed to investigate the human trafficking allegation against her recruiter.

“We have transfered Mary Jane back to Wirogunan prison [in Yogyakarta] because Nusamkambangan does not have facilities for female inmates,” he said.

“We hope Mary Jane can help to unveil the human trafficking case,” he added.

This photo illustration shows a vendor holding a newspaper that ran an article saying Filipina drug convict Mary Jane Veloso had been executed alongside seven foreign drug convicts in Indonesia, at a newsstand in Manila on April 29, 2015. A Philippine paper wrongly ran a headline on April 29 about Indonesia executing Veloso, while another blamed President Benigno Aquino for her fate as the local press were spectacularly caught out by her last-minute reprieve. (AFP Photo/Noel Celis)

Media caught out

Several Philippine newspapers were caught out on Wednesday by the last-minute reprieve for Veloso, running front-page headlines bidding her farewell and accusing the government of failing to save her.

“Death came before dawn,” read the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s dramatic headline, above a large photograph of the condemned Filipina maid whose plight has captivated the nation.

Manila’s best-selling Filipino-language tabloid, Abante, ran a black-themed front page together with a picture of Veloso, 30, with her head bowed, and a headline in capitals that translates as: “Farewell, Mary Jane.”

News of the canceled midnight execution came too late for most Filipino newspapers rushing to put out their final print editions.

“PNOY IS TO BLAME,” the tabloid Standard’s headline read, referring to criticism over the supposed “negligence” of the government of Benigno Aquino, using media shorthand for his nickname — President Noynoy.

“All hopes fade,” the Manila Times concluded, while the Manila Bulletin reflected the drama across three editions with the evolving headlines “We’re hoping for a miracle,” “No delay in execution,” and finally, “Veloso granted reprieve.”

The erroneous print-edition headlines swiftly became fodder for ridicule, with the online news site Coconuts Media running an item chiding the media for “killing” Veloso.

One Facebook user posted a composite picture of the front page snafu together with one of US president-elect Harry Truman holding a copy of the famous 1948 Chicago Tribune headline “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

“Proof that journalism hasn’t really changed much in the past six decades,” the caption read.

Market reaction

Indonesian stocks suffered a heavy sell-off on Wednesday due in part to fears that the execution of the seven foreigners could affect investor sentiment.

The benchmark Jakarta Composite Index plunged as much as 4.3 percent, before paring losses to 2.6 percent at the close, Bloomberg News reported.

The executions weighed on sentiment, with Australia, a major trading partner of Indonesia, taking the unprecedented step of recalling its ambassador and warning that bilateral ties had suffered.

The executions were not “foreign investor friendly,” Michael Every, head of financial markets research at Rabobank in Hong Kong, told Bloomberg.

“It’s difficult to find anything much positive to mention on the political or economic front in Indonesia of late,” Every said.

Two-way merchandise trade between Australia and Indonesia reached A$12.1 billion ($9.7 billion) in the year to June 30, 2014.

Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb, who is seeking to finalize a trade agreement with Indonesia, shelved a delegation to Jakarta ahead of the executions.

Michael Chan, the brother of Andrew Chan, makes a last visit before the execution, is seen at the dock crossings in Wijaya Pura, Cilacap, Central Java, on April 28, 2015. (Antara Photo/Idhad Zakaria)

Long walk

As they walked to face the firing squad on the prison island, the eight condemned drug traffickers defiantly sang praise to God, witnesses said, while in a town across the water a group of tearful supporters was also uniting in song.

The convicts made the long journey from their cells to clearings on the island to meet their fate early on Wednesday.

But rather than bow their heads in defeat and resignation, the convicts all reportedly refused blindfolds and raised their voices in song, including “Amazing Grace,” until the gunfire from the firing squads rang out.

Religious counselors, who were allowed to spend some time with the prisoners just before the executions, sang in unison with the convicts, continuing even after the men had been strapped to posts around four meters apart to be put to death, a priest said.

“When they were being put on the cross for execution they were singing on the crosses and we were in a tent not too far away from the execution place trying to support them,” Father Charlie Burrows told News Corp Australia.

He said Chan, an ordained pastor, and Sukumaran seemed to have the loudest voices.

The husband of Pastor Christie Buckingham, who gave spiritual guidance to Sukumaran, said his wife told him the men conducted themselves with “dignity and strength until the end.”

“She told me the eight of them walked out onto the killing field singing songs of praise,” Rob Buckingham told an Australian radio station.

Across the water in the town of Cilacap, the final crossing point for inmates destined for death on Nusakambangan Island, a small band of mourners held a candlelight vigil, and also sang “Amazing Grace.”

The haunting sounds filled the night sky, drowning out the sobs of those too distressed to contemplate what was taking place in the jungle-clad hills of the prison island.

One man wailed loudly and implored President Joko to have mercy. Another supporter read out the names of each inmate one by one.

Owen Pomana, a former convict turned pastor and friend of the Australian convicts, tried to buoy the spirits of those dwelling on the fate of the prisoners.

“Fear not, they have nothing to fear!” he declared of the condemned inmates.

Moments later, the eight inmates were dead, executed by 12-man firing squads after being tied to posts.

Just before dawn, their bodies returned from the island in coffins, some covered in embroidery.

Family members could be seen crying, ushered away by friends and supporters to begin the long journey to bury their loved ones.

Angelita Muxfeldt, the cousin of Brazilian inmate Gularte, wept as she was led through the large throng of onlookers by Father Burrows.

But others shed tears of joy. Family and friends of Veloso rushed to the port to embrace and express their disbelief at her last-minute reprieve.

For the Chan and Sukumaran families, there was no such solace. They had lost their sons, their brothers, after begging for their lives to be spared at every possible opportunity.

“They asked for mercy, but there was none,” the family said in a statement after the executions.

They will bury their loved ones soon, but will not be the first.

Barely had the dust settled at Cilacap port when Zainal Abidin, the sole Indonesian prisoner among the group. was laid to rest at a nearby graveyard.

A woman holds up a banner calling on Indonesia to halt the planned execution of two convicted Australian drug traffickers on death row during a candlelight vigil held by Amnesty International in Sydney, Australia, on April 27, 2015. (Reuters Photo/Jason Reed)

‘Utterly reprehensible’

Amnesty International said in a press release that the executions showed “complete disregard for due process and human rights safeguards.”

“These executions are utterly reprehensible,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s research director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

“They were carried out with complete disregard for internationally recognized safeguards on the use of the death penalty.

“The death penalty is always a human rights violation,” Abbott said in the press release, “but there are a number of factors that make today’s executions even more distressing. Some of the prisoners were reportedly not provided access to competent lawyers or interpreters during their arrest and initial trial, in violation of their right to a fair trial which is recognized under international and national law.

“One of those executed today, Rodrigo Gularte, had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and international law clearly prohibits the use of the death penalty against those with mental disabilities. It’s also troubling that people convicted of drug trafficking have been executed, even though this does not meet the threshold of ‘most serious crimes’ for which the death penalty can be imposed under international law.”

According to the Attorney General’s Office statistics, 136 people were on death row in Indonesia at the end of 2014, of whom 64 have been convicted of drug trafficking, two for terrorism, and the rest for murder and robbery.

Indonesia ended a four-year unofficial moratorium on the use of the death penalty on March 15, 2013, when it executed by firing squad Adami Wilson, a 48-year-old Malawian national.

A court had convicted Wilson in 2004 of smuggling one kilogram of heroin into Indonesia.

“President Widodo should recognize that the death penalty is not a crime deterrent but an unjustifiable and barbaric punishment,” said Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phelim Kine.

“Widodo should promote Indonesia as a rights-respecting democracy by joining the countries that have abolished capital punishment.”

Further Coverage

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