WHEN SENIOR government figures — including the Prime Minister, no less — light candles to serial international traffickers of narcotic drugs, decent folk may well wonder what in hell the world has come to. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran have ruined countless lives. Caught in Indonesia, they are to be executed under Indonesian law. The Australian government should stop wasting resources on futile clemency bids that will never succeed.
In the final analysis, it does not matter whether you support the death penalty or not.
It makes absolutely no difference whatsoever.
My readers know that I am sufficiently conservative in my social views to be a robust advocate of the death penalty: in instances of certain clearly defined offences, particularly where recidivism and/or highly aggravating factors are applicable, and with the judicial discretion for the full bench of the sentencing Court to impose a capital penalty for what I would term reprehensibly abhorrent violations of community expectations. Martin Bryant’s name comes to mind. Julian Knight’s does as well. There are others. Ivan Milat. The creature who raped and murdered Jill Meagher whilst on bail for assault charges and with a history littered with violent sexual attacks on women. We could go on.
Yet a colleague asked me some time ago whether — had they been apprehended and charged in Australia — I would expect Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran to be executed over the drug crimes for which they will shortly get the bullet, literally, in Indonesia; my (immediate and unhesitating) answer was that I wouldn’t. But this is scarcely the point.
Six weeks have now passed since we first discussed Chan and Sukumaran in this column, and despite some valiant efforts on their behalf by politicians, clergymen and community leaders (and despite some false signs that “progress” toward “rescuing” the pair might have been made), the truth is that the slow journey — both actual and metaphoric — of this pair of recidivist drug traffickers and criminal plotters toward their demise has been completely uninterrupted.
Indonesia, like so many south-east Asian countries, does not grant reprieves to drug traffickers sitting on death row.
Yet this inescapable truth seems to have eluded many of those wasting resources on attempting to get the duo spared.
I admit that whilst I have maintained a mild interest in the Bali Nine case ever since it began with well-publicised arrests a decade ago, I have never been interested to the extent of gleaning every last detail of either the heroin smuggling attempt at the centre of the issue, or of the backgrounds of those caught in the web of the Indonesian National Police.
Indeed, the question of whether Chan and Sukumaran might have been able to smuggle their ill-gotten contraband into Australia and arrested in Sydney — evading a potential death sentence in the process — is one I have never found taxing and one about which I am, even now, relatively unconcerned.
There seems ample evidence that had Australian Federal Police, working in conjunction with their INP counterparts, not provided the Indonesians with the intelligence on the Bali Nine drug ring then the arrests may well have occurred in Sydney.
But drug smuggling cartels and importation plots are intricate, highly organised operations spanning international boundaries; as I have opined before, had Chan, Sukumaran or any of the other members of the Bali Nine merely been innocent tourists, there would have been no international law enforcement effort in place to apprehend them in the first place: and with the goal of any such effort being the arrest and prosecution of criminal miscreants, the actions of the INP in apprehending the Bali Nine at the earliest opportunity, armed with adequate intelligence and on Indonesian soil, can to my mind hardly be a subject for criticism.
I have been reading a report from, of all places, the Daily Mail; a little digging around to verify its key points reveal that it is in fact instructive reading for anyone susceptible to the view that Chan and Myuran were misguided young men who simply made a mistake in Indonesia and that the capital penalty they are set to pay for it is a disproportionate one.
The reality is that neither of these men — young as they may have been at the time — were neophytes in the world of trafficking commercial quantities of hard narcotics, or anything of the sort; in fact, and as the Mail sets out, Chan at least could as easily have been arrested, tried and executed in China as in Indonesia, whilst both he and Sukumaran were experienced in the international drug trade and linked to one of the biggest drug syndicates in the world.
And this, in turn, throws some doubt on the notion of two “reformed” characters who have “rebuilt” their lives in prison: played out by a sympathetic press in Australia and bolstered by stupid politicians holding candlelight vigils to this pair of hardened drug traffickers at Parliament House of all places, the story of heroic reform and redemption will have seduced and convinced many. The evidence it has done so is only a news portal or TV programme away in this country.
But not only has it failed to sway the Indonesian authorities who will shortly order the executions of Chan and Sukumaran, but it has probably hardened their resolve to press ahead with doing exactly that: for whilst the lengthy and filthy pedigree of this pair’s evil past in peddling drugs and ruining lives has been omitted from the fare served up for consumption by the Australian public, it is a virtual certainty that every syllable of that particular record is well known to — and has been exhaustively considered by — the Indonesian officials holding their lives in their hands.
I urge readers to peruse both the article from the Daily Mail I have provided a link to and the piece I wrote on this subject six weeks ago before we continue. They will provide context around the points I wish make.
What do I think an appropriate punishment might be for Chan and Sukumaran? Had this occurred in Australia, I would say they ought to spend the rest of their lives behind bars, and kept under rigorous and constant surveillance to ensure it was impossible for them to orchestrate and initiate further drug trafficking activities from the confines of their cells.
Yet as I said at the outset, it does not matter whether you support the death penalty or not, or in my own case whether I think a capital penalty is excessive or not, although I would hasten to add that through their actions and the consequent circulation of untold quantities of highly addictive and lethal heroin, countless other lives will have been indiscriminately ruined and/or terminated, wilfully and for profit, by Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, their accomplices and their associates, and that I can see that some will indeed believe they should be executed in return.
But the brutal truth of the matter is that they were apprehended in a country that utilises the death penalty in serious cases of drug trafficking: and I believe those who do not think the past criminal histories of the pair were not just known to the Indonesians but taken into account in their treatment of Chan and Sukumaran are kidding themselves.
It is certainly true that Indonesia devotes tremendous resources to rescuing its own citizens from execution in foreign countries — an argument that has been made endlessly throughout the sorry campaign to have Chan’s and Sukumaran’s sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
But just as Indonesia makes representations to other countries in the interests of its own citizens, it reserves the right to total and unswerving control of its own legal system, and to the penalties meted out by it to foreigners convicted of sentences on Indonesian soil. Whether this is a hypocrisy or not is beside the point: it is their right to operate in this fashion and they choose to do so.
And Indonesia — as we have noted — is not in the business of sparing drug felons from the firing squad.
This basic reality has been reflected throughout the appeals processes made by and/or on behalf of Chan and Sukumaran: at every stage, the death sentences conferred upon the pair have been confirmed. Judicial reviews have been fruitless. An appeal for presidential clemency was flatly refused. So-called “soft diplomacy” efforts by clergymen, international aid agencies, charities and private citizens have fallen on deaf ears. Inter-governmental pleading and negotiation has been ignored. Clumsily veiled threats of retaliation against Indonesia (such as “reminders” of the billion dollars of aid provided by Australia a decade ago after the Boxing Day tsunami) have merely inflamed resentment toward Australia among the Indonesian public and stiffened the resolve of its government to proceed with the executions as planned.
Indonesia — a sovereign nation — has approached the question of Chan and Sukumaran based solely on its interpretation of its own laws; it is a country notoriously intolerant of external interference, and highly resentful of attempts to influence it.
And it has arguably reached a point where it is no longer interested in entertaining further legal appeals or other judicial reviews sought on behalf of Chan and Sukumaran: it has been made clear over the past week that the official Indonesian position (outwardly at least) is that the judicial review process concluded with the denial of petitions for clemency by President Joko Widodo.
In this sense, the continued lecturing and grovelling by Australia is pointless: and having indicated he would not permit damage to be done to the bilateral relationship in seeking to assist the pair, by allowing this nonsense to continue Tony Abbott now risks precisely that.
Either way, the grotesque spectacle of a vigil on the lawns of Parliament House, attended by senior figures on all sides of politics, and featuring no less than the Prime Minister himself leading a delegation lighting candles for Chan and Sukumaran is an obscenity that should not be tolerated, the question of how it was ever allowed to occur in the first place notwithstanding.
There are limits to the assistance the Australian government can and should provide to Australians who fall foul of the law in overseas countries. It is obvious that in this case those limits have been reached.
And in any case, stunts like the one at Parliament House send the message abroad that this country is soft on crime at best, or abjectly pathetic at worst, when in reality it is neither: and for this reason alone, the farcical attempts to haul Chan and Sukumaran from the executioners’ reach have gone on long enough.
More than enough time, money and effort has been devoted to this. The condemned pair are going to be executed whether you like it or not, and whether the government persists with its futile endeavours or not.
And it bears remembering that this is a pair of dangerous, recidivist, hardened international felons who have repeatedly exhibited a cavalier disregard for human life, and the cynical prioritisation of profit over the lives of those their activities have wrecked.
Irrespective of the authenticity or otherwise of their “rehabilitation.”
The government — and others — have done everything they reasonably can. It’s time to stop pandering to this pair, and to desist from wasting any more resources that would indisputably be better utilised on something or someone more deserving.