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  • Why Indonesians joke about our Chan and Sukumaran clemency pleas

Why Indonesians joke about our Chan and Sukumaran clemency pleas


'Coin for Abbott' appeal

Australians have been vocal in criticising Indonesia for upholding the death penalty, and for Indonesia’s alleged hypocrisy in advocating on behalf of its own citizens on death row in other countries.

Despite the appeal-related delay announced on Friday morning, President Joko Widodo has appeared consistently unmoved, and many Indonesians look upon Australian protests – especially those of our PM – as a joke.

If we really want to know why Indonesia does not seem to be taking us seriously, we only need to look in the mirror to glimpse what they must perceive as Australian disingenuousness.

To them, it would have to look like an ugly form of nationalism dressed up as repeated sanctimonious utterances about the so-called moral abhorrence of the death penalty.

They remember better than we do, the Australians who cheered, or gave assent by their silence, as the Bali bombers were on death row and subsequently executed in 2008. They are also keenly aware of our harsh treatment of Indonesian and other nationals in our efforts to ‘stop the boats’. Some would recall Australian complicity over the decades in Indonesian acts of brutality unrelated to the death penalty. These include Australia’s support for the 1975 Indonesian invasion of East Timor that led to the deaths of up to 200,000 East Timorese.

We are rightly proud that two of our citizens have provided a textbook example of how convicted criminals can be rehabilitated and become a force for good, in Kerobokan prison, and potentially the community. But the transformation of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan cannot hide the dubiousness of our stated philosophical objection to the death penalty, especially with our close cultural and defence ties to the United States, where the death penalty is an integral part of the justice system federally and in 32 of 50 states.

Australian advocacy for our nationals would be credible if we included in our pleas for clemency, the Nigerians, the Filipino, the Brazilian, the Frenchman, the Ghanian, and the Indonesian who are set down for execution alongside Sukumaran and Chan.

We could go one better and spearhead an anti-death penalty initiative across the entire Asia-Pacific region. This is the suggestion of Elaine Pearson, Australia Director at Human Rights Watch, who wrote on Wednesday: ‘Australia should jumpstart a campaign to reject the death penalty across the Asia-Pacific, educating the region’s populations in how the death penalty has failed to deter crime and been unjustly applied.’

She argues that the rejection of the death penalty reflects values that are universal, and not just Australian, and that we are well placed to partner with countries already against the death penalty - such as the Philippines and Cambodia - in an effort to persuade those who are in favour, including Brunei and Papua New Guinea, which are both taking steps to revive the death penalty.

Also on Wednesday, the Holy See made an appeal to the United Nations for international action against the death penalty, with its Permanent Observer at the UN, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, recognising that it is a long-term goal because many countries still believe it is necessary or are wavering. An ABC report on Friday indicated that there is argument in the Philippines that the death penalty should be brought back as the appropriate means of dealing with Australian alleged sex offender Peter Scully.

As for Australia, once nationalism is taken out of the equation and we align our anti-death penalty advocacy with that of like-minded nations, the leaders of Indonesia and other countries with Australian and other foreign nationals on death row will start to take our clemency pleas more seriously.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.


Topic tags: Michael Mullins, death penalty, Sukumaran, Chan, Bali Nine, Human Rights Watch, Joko Widodo



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Existing comments

Just for the record, re 1975 Indonesian Invasion. whatever the Australian political shenanigans, I well remember the general public outrage at the invasion. I was among many who protested outside the Indonesian Embassy.There was considerable disquiet towards Government policies from the Australian public, because of the deaths of the Australian journalists and arguably also because the actions of the Timorese people in supporting Australian forces during the Battle of Timor in World War II were well-remembered. Protests took place in Australia against the occupation, and some Australian nationals participated in the resistance movement.
Australia provided important sanctuary to East Timorese independence advocates like José Ramos-Horta (who based himself in Australia during his exile).

Father John George | 06 March 2015  

The Bali Bombers deliberately maimed and killed hundreds of innocent people. The ringleader went to his death with a smile on his face. No remorse. No empathy.

PN | 06 March 2015  

What crap many Australians support this execution. How many Australian's would have died from over 8kg of heroin? I don't agree with keeping people locked up for 10 years prior to being executed it should be within a week of the sentencing. I have zero sympathy for them and am disgusted by our grovelling to spare them.

Lucas | 06 March 2015  

And now we are buying fake fishing boats in Vietnam to refoule refugees in and to fool the Indonesians into thinking they are simple fishermen on the boats.

Marilyn | 06 March 2015  

I must admit, I can't remember feeling much empathy for the Bali bombers as they seemed to revel in the notoriety of being on death row and being martyrs. Not that I support the death penalty in any situation, but after seeing so much of Chan and Sukumaran on TV, I feel like I know them , unlike the foreigners also facing the firing squad. And Lucas, I don't agree that killing drug dealers reduces heroin overdoses - some other smuggling rings would have filled the gap in the market. But I do agree that if the death penalty is inevitable, yes it should be done straight away and in a way that's just as painless as the way we euthanase our sick and unwanted animals - lethal injection, not torture.

AURELIUS | 07 March 2015  

Thank you Michael. With the present Australian discussion and representations to the Indonesian government about the plight of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, it would be good if we Australians could commit ourselves unequivocally to opposition to the death penalty for all persons and in all circumstances.

This is a speech I gave about the issue in Bali more than six years ago when I was worried that our political leaders were failing adequately to counter populist sentiment for the execution of the Bali bombers. Click here.

Frank Brennan SJ | 09 March 2015  

Robert McClelland was the Opposition spokesman for Foreign Affairs in the lead up to the 2007 election. On 8 October 2007, he gave a speech indicating that a new Labor Government would work in the region to abolish the death penalty. This was part of the Sydney Morning Herald’s report at the time:

A FEDERAL Labor government would oppose the death penalty for the likes of the Bali bombers, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein as part of a broader regional strategy to end capital punishment in Asia.

The Opposition foreign affairs spokesman, Robert McClelland, said last night Labor would establish a coalition with five Asian nations that have abolished the death penalty to persuade 15 other countries in the region, including China, to do the same.

Mr McClelland said the strategy would succeed only if the Government, which opposes the death penalty at home and for Australians abroad, also opposed it for foreign terrorists and tyrants, no matter how hideous their crimes.

"At the highest levels, Australia's public comments about the death penalty must be consistent with policy," he told a Labor human rights forum in the Sydney seat of Wentworth. "This is especially the case if we are going to tactfully and successfully drive a regional abolitionist movement."

The timing of his comments was controversial given that Friday marks the anniversary of the October 12, 2002, Bali bombings which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

Frank Brennan SJ | 09 March 2015  

Thank heavens at last for a balanced and articulate column. Media coverage so far seems to have stuck with emotive and unthinking comment with no respect for the reason for Indonesian response

Jan | 09 March 2015  

It seems that penalties for breaking the law have never been a deterrent to the criminal regardless of the severity of the penalty. Nor indeed do penalties dissuade the many thousands of citizens who would consider themselves good and righteous persons and daily ignore our civil law in matters of road safety, food hygiene, corporate management, political propriety and any other aspect of societal law you wish to mention. It is immaterial whether the death penalty acts as a deterrent which it clearly doesn't. Penalties are there to provide firstly, retribution for wrong-doing that damages our society, i.e. to pay back society, if not in kind then in lieu and secondly, to re-educate the offender in the hope that there will be no future transgression of the law. When one considers that the drug smugglers inflicted no damage on society in that their plans were thwarted, have had their freedom curtailed for 10 years and have been re-educated or rehabilitated, it seems that should be fair repayment to society and That there is no justification for the death penalty, quite apart from the truth that Christian society would proclaim, namely, that no man in judgement holds any dominion over human life, the province of its creator and ultimate judge, that nebulous (to some) being we call God.

john frawley | 09 March 2015  

The rehabilitation of the Bali two is indeed impressive - but what if it hadn't been? Would we then support the death penalty? It is unfortunate, as Michael says, that we do not mention those of other nationalities who are up for execution as well. And I do think the Indonesians are cruel to drag out the process as they have done - for ten years, and now all these weeks. Their display of military might as the prisoners left Bali filled me with horror.

Rodney Wetherell | 09 March 2015  

I am opposed to the death penalty for everyone. The corruption in Indonesia is rife amount judiciary and also drug crime among civilians. I have friends who have witnessed drugs are being sold on the street by Indonesians and the prisons also have problems with drugs (as ours do) and Police turn their heads. Indonesia is seeking clemency for their own on death row internationally, which is hypocritical. With all that information it is difficult to place any morality to their laws. I will not travel to Indonesia. I am so sad about the execution of prisoners in all parts of the world, including the USA. But most of all, the AFP has blood on its hands and their actions are with this case are disgusting and inhumane. They have sacrificed two Australians and for what?

Cate | 09 March 2015  

Thank you, Michael. You cut through the hype to the reality of our government's hypocrisy. Of course Australia doesn't support the death penalty, and of course we desire mercy for our two young men - but that's not the reason for our highly publicized resistance to their execution. We don't go up in flames for nationals of other countries, and I well remember our own young Melbourne man who was executed a few years ago in another country on drug charges. Publicity, yes, and sympathy, yes - but not this passionate, government supported outcry. Perhaps I'm paranoid, but I can't help wondering, when our leaders say 'look there', exactly what they're trying to stop us looking at right here.

Joan Seymour | 09 March 2015  

I don't know what the Indonesian attitude is to abortion, but to any pro-life person it is clear that Australian government protests about capital punishment are disingenuous.

Gavan | 09 March 2015  

Michael, I agree with you. If we took a moral approach to the death penalty, rather than a nationalistic one, we would be doing as you suggest. The
USA, which prides itself on being a great democracy, should be included in our advocacy.

The UN's report charging Australia with torturing asylum seekers has provided a further reason for the Indonesians not to take us seriously.

It is distressing, though, that the death penalty remains popular in Indonesia, especially for foreign criminals. When two people have rehabilitated themselves as these two Australians have, their death seems senseless. While it must be a relief for them that, so far, they have not been executed, to be waiting so long in limbo for decisions must be torturous.

Anna | 09 March 2015  

Michael makes a number of good points. I thought about my letter to President Widodo for a long time and this is how I dealt with the difficulties that Michael identifies: https://www.academia.edu/11297084/My_Letter_to_President_Widodo

Stephen Keim | 09 March 2015  

There are, I think, a number of factors at play as to why it seems unlikely that Myuran and Andrew will not get a last minute reprieve, when many of us hope that they will. President Jokowi is much less secure in his office than his predecessor SBY. He is, like most Indonesian presidents, Javanese, and, in these circumstances, it is a very Javanese thing to make a show of power. It's almost like something out of a wayang drama. Sadly, our Prime Minister has cast himself as the villain/buffoon here . Using Christian arguments against the death penalty may not hit the bullseye in the most populous Muslim nation on earth. From the Indonesian vantage point we are a slightly querulous neighbour who has, at times, supported those they consider rebels as in East Timor and West Papua. Indonesians are a proud people who don't like being morally lectured to by the West, especially when they consider the West's hands, including ours, have not been particularly clean in recent times. It is, on the ground, a very difficult situation. There are Indonesian human rights and anti-death penalty groups but they also seem to have little influence in this matter.

Edward Fido | 09 March 2015  

Whilst I do not believe in the death penalty, especially in this case of the two foolish young Australians, I am more concerned about ruthless massacres taking place in what used be called West Timor. This was left a sovereign nation by the Dutch but is now being exploited for rich mineral wealth for Indonesia and some huge multi-nationals who are just as guilty as the Indonesian Government. The Bali pair are getting huge publicity on a daily basis, but the poor East Timorese barely get a mention.

John Morris | 09 March 2015  

Even though it does accurately portray the likely views of some (perhaps most) Indonesians, I don’t like Michael Mullins’ article at all. There is a growing list of late-comers who are seeking to hijack the cause and make it not one simply about mercy for 2 Australians but rather an argument about the death penalty. It is ironic that Mullins identifies the contempt in which some Indonesians rightly hold those Australians who are asking for mercy for 2 of our citizens, whilst at the same time Mullins goes on to encourage us to “..spearhead an anti-death penalty initiative across the entire Asia-Pacific region…”. Is Mullins suggesting that our argument for mercy is too simple; that if instead we became his ‘spearhead’ for the entire Asia-Pacific Region then the Indonesians will sit up, take notice and reprieve 2 Australians who are now on death row? How patronizing is that to both sides of this issue. Those that support the Mullins line are seeking the moral high ground – they are putting themselves so high they won’t hear the bullets that may take out Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan.

Richard | 09 March 2015  

Wonderful article! Thank you for pointing out OUR governments hypocracy.

Deeley | 09 March 2015  

Perhaps a combined diplomatic initiative by Australia and the other countries whose citizens are also on death row in Indonesia might be worth a try. With the ten-day delay in their executions there would now be time to organize such a move. A joint plea for clemency by Australia, Holland, Brazil, the Philippines and France – free from any threats of diplomatic retaliation etc – would carry more weight with the Indonesian government than the individual ham-fisted efforts made so far by Abbott and Brazil etc. Such a plea could first respectfully note that Indonesia always vigorously and often successfully lobbied other states to spare Indonesians facing execution. Could not Indonesia show the same compassion towards those foreign nationals currently facing execution as other states have displayed towards Indonesians they were going to execute?

Dennis | 10 March 2015  

With all the good will and intentions in the world, Australians' ingrained colonial attitude towards 'foreigners' is evident in the government's plea on behalf of Sukamaran and Chan. If we want to continue to play a significant role in the region, we have to begin from our cultural and moral ground zero. We can no longer maintain a national psyche that is at odds with the evolutionary changes of human condition.

Alex Njoo | 10 March 2015  

I agree with this article. It is bemusing how the Australian media has made celebrities of the two Australian blokes on death row in Indonesia. People who are campaigning against the death penalty should have started a public campaign 7 or 8 years ago when these blokes were convicted and sentenced. This campaign should also focus on all countries where the death penalty is permitted including the 32 states of America, China and Saudi Arabia. The American penal system is especially objectionable for it's lack of human rights; I recently heard an interview with an American named Stephenson who has written a book on this penal system. It is also interesting that the Indonesian jail system appears to provide for a process of rehabilitation, which the Australian jail system could learn. Comments by politicians such as Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop about Indonesia are a joke, especially Bishop's racist comments early last year when Australian security organisations were found to be phone tapping the phones of Indonesian politicians.

Mark Doyle | 10 March 2015  

The imminent execution of Myuran and Andrew appears to have precipitated some rather strange comments and approaches to what appears to be the problem. My simple assumption was that the aim was to save their lives. Using this as an excuse to attack what commentators see as other grievous social ills in Indonesia or bring it under the umbrella of a supposedly greater cause, such as worldwide or regional abolition of the death penalty, are, I fear, wide of the mark. The only effective plea for clemency which might succeed is a person-to-person appeal to the President from his equal in a respectful, but non-grovelling manner. The petitioner must maintain his or her dignity. This opportunity appears to have been squandered. Only a culturally appropriate approach would've worked.

Edward Fido | 10 March 2015  

A little off topic but President Widodo's crusade again illicit drug trafficking, estimated to claim up to 20,000 Indonesian lives annually, pales in comparison with cigarette smoking-related deaths in this country. The World Health Organisation estimates this to be between 300,000 and 400,000 each year. Indonesia is a lucrative playground for big tobacco, and we await the President's response or otherwise to this malaise

Michael Faulkner | 10 March 2015  

My sympathy goes out to the 2 families of these young men. They knew the law and they were disrespectful. That does not condone the death sentence which is barbaric. I agree that we should not be hypocritical and shy away from countries like America that still uphold the death sentence in various states. Why are we saying nothing about that? Is it ok for other countries to execute barbarically if they so wish, and we stand quietly by, saying nothin - that amounts to supporting them. The bystander is guilty. Australia holds double standards. Shame on us.

Mira Zeimer | 12 March 2015  

Excellent observation Michael and something I have been thinking about for a while. Australian or not, rehabilitated or not, the death penalty is wrong and we as a nation should be standing against it. Not just standing for those we consider our own

geoff Duke | 13 March 2015  

Good article with sound arguments Michael, thank you. One can only hope the PM's minders read it! A small correction tough: In Indonesia they do not regard Australian pleas for clemency for the two Australians as a joke at all. Indeed most - especially in Aceh province - were deeply offended and angered by the plea of our PM. When he sought so ignorantly to link clemency for Sukumaran & Chan to a 'debt' owed us for our aid after the 2004 tsunami they were outraged. Worse: Abbot's ill advised statement actually tightened the domestic political corner President Widodo finds himself in. His strongest opponent in his much publicised campaign against corruption in Indonesia is the Indonesian national police force. In revenge for Widodo's decision not to appoint as National Police Chief the police nominee (whom Widodo is advised is involved in corrupt practice himself), the police have arrested and charged two of Widodo's latest appointments to his National Corruption Commission. That's bad enough; but to have Aceh - one of any Indonesian president's most challenging provinces - in open rebellion against him over these executions would just make his anti-corruption campaign so much more difficult. Widodo must appear strong and resolute in the 'war on drugs' (an issue most Indonesians regard as murderous of thousands of people) if he has any prospect of winning popular support for his 'war on corruption'. Abbot just added fuel to the national fire of support for execution of drug offenders - including Sukumaran and Chan. I wish someone would just zip his lip sometimes.

Dr Frank Donovan | 16 March 2015  

While I stand with Holy See's UNO intervention against capital punishment, Indonesia has one enormous problem! The people on its death row include foreign nationals, all but one of whom were convicted of drug-related offences. These foreign inmates come from 18 different countries: Australia, Brazil, China, France, Ghana, Great Britain, India, Iran, Malawi, Malaysia, Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal, Sierra Leone, the United States, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe Oddly enough, Indonesia is well noted as "a strong advocate against the death penalty for its citizens abroad."

Father John George | 16 March 2015  

Interestingly Catholic World News - March 20, 2015 “Nowadays the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed,” Pope Francis said at a March 20 meeting with members of the International Committee against the Death Penalty. “For the rule of law, the death penalty represents a failure, as it obliges the state to kill in the name of justice,” the Pope argued. Basing his argument on the Church’s consistent defense of human life, the Pope acknowledged the moral right to defense against an unjust aggressor

Father John George | 22 March 2015  

"..many Indonesians look upon Australian protests – especially those of our PM – as a joke." Maybe not, if you read some of the Indonesian news sites comments, many Indonesians think Joko is a joke, a hypocrite, and not the "humanitarian" they voted for.

OR | 30 March 2015  

Alternatively Australia could reinstate the death penalty. It has a 100% rate of successful deterrence. No subject has ever re-offended. And its far cheaper than feeding and housing them in a prison. Indeed, teh auctioning off of the right to be the executioner woudl make it a profit centre. And I'll take moral guidance from the pope when his lot stop sexually abusing children.

Whalehunt Fun | 01 May 2015  

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