February 14, 2015

I Stand For Mercy

Like so many of you who stand for mercy, I vehemently oppose the legal execution of my fellow Australians, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

While I do not excuse the seriousness of their crimes, or diminish the potential impact their actions had on the wider community, I cannot in any good conscience disregard the value of human life in order to justify state sanctioned murder. 

The primary objective of modern day capital punishment is to act as a deterrent, however in places like Indonesia where drug smuggling has long been punishable by death, the rate of trafficking has not ceased or diminished.   

Capital punishment is an archaic and barbaric practice, deeply rooted in the ethos of retribution and revenge and in any modern, civil society, there is simply no good argument that can hold up in its favour. 

We know now from DNA testing that an incomprehensible number of innocent people, (predominately African Americans) have been wrongly executed in places like Texas. If capital punishment was still practiced in Australia then an infinite number of Indigenous people would have been executed and Lindy Chamberlain would not be alive today. 

In 2005, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were sentenced to death in Indonesia for attempting to smuggle heroin from Bali into Australia, as part of a group dubbed The Bali Nine. Both Chan and Sukumaran were infamously singled out as the ringleaders of the group by the mainstream Australian media; a title which ultimately helped secure the death penalty sentence. 

Although the real king pins behind the Bali Nine smuggling operation have never actually been caught, both Chan and Sukumaran have spent ten torturous years languishing in a Balinese prison. And yet even in these impossibly dark and hopeless circumstances, the men have managed to find hope and enough light to turn their lives around and show clear signs of remorse and rehabilitation. 
Chan has turned to prayer and counselling, showing remarkable acts of compassion for fellow prisoners, while Sukumaran has found solace and confidence in portraiture and art. Both men are not the same people they were a decade ago and yet all efforts to learn and grow from their mistakes have been entirely disregarded. 

Despite the legal appeals for clemency and the growing pleas for mercy, it appears unlikely that the two Australians will be granted a final reprieve. And while talks are continuing between Canberra and Jakarta, the new Indonesian President, Joko Widodo has made it virtually impossible for the Australian Government to negotiate a pardon. 

Ironically, clemency was actually granted for Chan and Sukumaran under the previous Indonesian Government when the two men were informally granted the right to serve out their sentences on death row. However, in a cruel twist of fate, the new Indonesian President has cracked down on all prisoners convicted of drug offences, stating that there will be no pardon given to those currently serving sentences on death row. 

If anything, the new Indonesian Government should be marketing its ability to rehabilitate death row prisoners such as Chan and Sukumaran; an achievement rarely seen in other prisons around the world. 

Both men are now in a prime position to educate Juvenile offenders caught up in the Indonesian drug scene, and potentially prevent them from making similar mistakes. Rehabilitated prisoners like Chan and Sukumaran form a very real and proactive model with which to fight the war on drugs, and yet instead of harnessing their potential, the government is finalising plans to fire bullets into their hearts. 

In an attempt to sway President Joko Widodo, foreign Minister, Julie Bishop has warned that Australians may be forced to boycott Indonesia if the executions of Chan and Sukumaran go ahead.

 "I think the Australian people will demonstrate their deep disapproval of this action, including by making decisions about where they wish to holiday," she said.
While I can understand Julie Bishop's desire to enlist Australians against the Indonesian Government, I don't think it is wise to discourage Australians from travelling to Indonesia, particularly when the vast majority of Australians tend to migrate to Bali. 

Statements such as these will not alter the decisions made by officials in Jakarta, but they do have the potential to threaten Bali's tourism industry and in turn disrupt the livelihood of many Balinese. 

The 2002 Bali bombing had many ramifications for the tourism industry in Indonesia but for Bali, the attack ripped the heart out of the island’s tourism industry. In 2002, over 40% of the Balinese working population was employed directly or indirectly by the tourism industry.  

In the aftermath of the Bali bombing, international tourism arrival to Bali plummeted and it took well over a year for tourism to show signs of recovery. To boycott travel to Bali in an attempt to punish the Indonesian Government will only backfire in the faces of the gentle Balinese people who are incidentally opposed to capital punishment. 

Although the general population of Indonesia is predominately Muslim, over 90% of Balinese people identify as Hindu. And while there is no official Hindu line on capital punishment, Hinduism opposes killing, violence and revenge, and most Hindu people oppose capital punishment. 
In an interview that aired on Four Corners last week on the case of Chan and Sukumaran, Balinese people were asked what they thought about the case. Every single person was opposed to the executions and some said they were afraid that if this went ahead, the number of Australians coming to Bali would decrease. 

I spent time in Bali just days before the Bali Bombings and again a few years later, and the main thing that had changed was a newfound sense of fear that their lives could be upended by another event that stopped people from visiting the island. 
If the Australian Government is serious about putting pressure on Indonesia to stop the executions then they should not be doing so at a cost to the Balinese people. There are other ways to affect change and they might start by examining why the Australian Federal Police appeared on Four Corners last week stating that they would not do anything differently if the same situation presented itself again. 
The AFP acted following a tip off by the father of Scott Rush, one of the younger Bali Nine members. Mr. Rush phoned the AFP to warn them that his son was about to do something stupid, but he made that call in a desperate attempt to protect his son from being caught trafficking drugs through Indonesia. 
However, instead of intervening to protect the boy from being arrested in a country that executes drug traffickers, the AFP alerted the Indonesian authorities about their suspicions. Instead of waiting to arrest the group once they had landed in Australia, the AFP effectively handed the group over to the Indonesian authorities. 
Since then, the Australian Government has had ten years to put pressure on the Indonesian Government to pardon Chan and Sukumaran. Why they waited until the final hour is beyond me. 

I can only assume that they were acting on the good faith of the previous Indonesian President, on an assurance that the men would live out their sentences in prison. If the new president does indeed ignore the Australian Government pleas for clemency then it is up to the Australian Government to respond in a manner that hurts the Indonesian Government, and not the people. 
Nothing good can come from this nightmare, not for the families of Chan and Sukumaran or for Indonesia.  Killing these two men will not dent the war on drugs, and the drug deaths and overdoses will continue to plague the country until they begin to rethink their entire approach to drug reform. 
Addiction is treated as a criminal issue and so we have prisons overflowing with addicts who were arrested in the throws of their disease. In actual fact, addiction is a health issue and one that warrants a radically new approach, not just in Indonesia but also in Australia and the US and the UK and in all countries where the war on drugs is failing. 
Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran are not bad people. They are not cruel, evil, violent men who cannot feel remorse or be rehabilitated. They made a mistake, a costly mistake at a time when they were young, stupid, bulletproof, but they have been paying for that mistake for the last 10 years. They could so easily be my son; your son, friend, nephew or brother and they do not deserve to pay for their mistake with their lives. 

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