A picture of Tran Thi Bich Hanh, a Vietnamese national who was recently executed in Indonesia, is held up by the chief warden of Semarang women’s prison, in this Jan. 16, 2015, file photo. (Antara Photo/R. Rekotomo)

Vietnamese Drug Convict Awaiting Execution Expresses One Final Wish

BY :STEFY TENU

JANUARY 16, 2015

Semarang, Central Java. When convicted drug trafficker Tran Thi Bich Hahn, 37, was told she would be one of six inmates scheduled to face a firing squad on Sunday, she only had one wish: to be executed in her home country of Vietnam.

Shinta Ardhani had no idea the woman she knew as Asien and who had become a close friend was among those to be shot dead by the Indonesian government for attempting to traffic narcotics into the country.

"I immediately cried when I found out that Asien would be executed. I only know her by her nickname. I didn't know her full name," Shinta said.

A reporter for a local radio station, the 35-year-old first met Asien in March 2013 when she was asked to host an event at the Bulu Women's Penitentiary in Semarang, where the Vietnam national is now awaiting execution, scheduled for Sunday.

Shinta said the two immediately bonded over stories of their mutual trade; Asien said she, too, was a reporter, having worked for five years at a finance magazine.

"[Asien] likes to tell me about what she has been doing in prison. She really likes to sew; make flower bouquets and such," Shinta explained.

Duped?

She recalled how Asien had finally revealed her side of the events that ultimately led to her incarceration. The Vietnamese claimed she had been duped by a drug syndicate to transport a suitcase into Indonesia for a fee of $6,000.

It was later revealed that the suitcase contained nearly $200,000 worth of methamphetamine.

Asien was arrested by customs officials at the Adi Soemarmo airport in Solo, Central Java, after disembarking from an AirAsia flight from Kuala Lumpur.

Despite the more lenient life sentence sought by prosecutors, the Boyolali District Court in Central Java handed her the death penalty after discovering Asien had successfully smuggled narcotics into the country eight times previously; the day of her arrest had been her ninth attempt.

Asien has since exhausted her legal options, including for a presidential pardon.

Rights activists

In a controversial move, President Joko Widodo last month announced he would not grant clemency to at least 64 individuals who had been sentenced to death for drug-related crimes. Joko argued the extreme measure was necessary to combat the production and distribution of drugs in Indonesia.

The government has also pledged to execute as many as 20 people each year, despite media scrutiny and criticism from human rights groups.

"These executions must be stopped immediately. The death penalty is a human rights violation and it is shocking that the Indonesian authorities are looking to put to death six people this Sunday," said Rupert Abbott, global rights organization Amnesty International's research director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

"Indonesia's new government took office on the back of promises to improve respect for human rights, but carrying out these executions would be a regressive move," he added.

Human Rights Watch said the planned executions came at a time when the government was actively seeking to protect Indonesian nationals who faced the death penalty overseas. It says Indonesia has shown "hypocrisy on the right to life."

Boyolali and Nusakambangan

Asien is scheduled to be executed in Boyolali, while five other prisoners convicted of drug offenses will reportedly face the firing squad on the island prison of Nusakambangan.

Ahmad Kudhori, the Boyolali prison chief warden, said Asien was technically one of his inmates but was transferred to the city of Semarang because the district lacked a prison facility for women.

"We have not yet received any instructions [to execute Asien]," Ahmad said. "But we are ready to carry out such orders," he added.

A second woman to be executed on Sunday is Indonesian Rani Andriani, also known as Melisa Aprilia.

The four other condemned are male foreign nationals: Daniel Enemuo (Nigerian), Ang Kim Soei (Dutch), Namaona Denis (Malawian) and Marco Archer Cardoso Moreira (Brazilian).

European condemnation

Federica Mogherini, the European Union's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, released a statement on Thursday condemning the planned executions, calling the move "deeply regrettable."

"The EU is opposed to capital punishment in all cases and without exception, and has consistently called for its universal abolition," the statement said. "The death penalty is a cruel and inhumane punishment, which fails to act as a deterrent and represents an unacceptable denial of human dignity and integrity."

Meanwhile, Dutch media were reporting on Friday that the nation's foreign minister, Bert Koenders, had said the execution of the Dutch national could harm relations with Indonesia.

"At the international level we are trying everything to make sure the executions do not take place," the minister was quoted as saying by newsportal Nu.nl.

Koenders did not want to say what kind of consequences the execution of the Dutch drug convict could have, but did say that he had discussed the matter with Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, who was Indonesia's ambassador to the Netherlands before joining Joko's cabinet.

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