"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Bali Nine members living in death’s shadow

Kerobokan prison, Bali island, Indonesia.
Shock waves are reverberating through the Bali Nine, arrested for attempting to smuggle 8.3kg of heroin from Bali to Australia on April 17, 2005.

Last Wednesday morning, in the packed visiting room of Mal­ang’s all-male prison in East Java, Brisbane courier Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen, 32, spoke of his despair, fears for the future and “right’’ to appeal his life sentence.

Nguyen had been working out, as he does regularly to kill time. Time has not been a commodity in short supply for the Bali Nine mule serving life imprisonment. Nor for his cellmate, 38-year-old Martin Stephens, who was picking his way through the crowd with his mother in tow on her annual visit from NSW.

Nguyen and Stephens were transferred from Bali’s Kerobokan jail last year, officially for violating prison rules. Nguyen, once nominated third-in-command of the drug-smuggling ring, appears dumbfounded when reminded a decade has passed since the Australians’ arrests.

“Ten years, already,” he murmurs. “It’s a long time.’’

How does he recall that day in 2005? Nguyen is unequivocal: “The worst day of my life.’’

Joko’s harsh drug policy does not augur well for the two ringleaders and 58 other drug convicts on death row. Six were killed by ­firing squad on January 18.

As Joko flexes his muscles, ­declaring no mercy and arguing the country needs “shock therapy’’ to stop rampant drug abuse, the seven mules are keeping their heads down. Even Newcastle woman Renae Lawrence, 37, the one female and only member with a fixed term, scheduled for parole next year, is circumspect.

The other six, desperate for fixed terms to enable them to earn remissions and early release, are intensely nervous. Only inmates not serving life or death sentences are entitled to remissions.

Nguyen’s mother and sister are visiting tomorrow and he is not relishing the prospect. He finds it painful. “It’s very difficult seeing my mother. It’s a reminder of home.’’

His parents run a bakery in Brisbane and have spent their life savings on his appeals; he has now launched an online fundraising campaign, hoping it will cover the legal costs of his sixth appeal.

“It’s a punishment. We can’t do nothing. Since 2010, we have all been trying to apply for fixed terms,’’ says Nguyen.

“It’s our right.’’

Stephens’ former lawyer, Wirawan Adnan, points out inmates applying for sentence reductions must have served one-third of their terms. How can you measure that if you are on a life sentence?

“It’s irrelevant,’’ Adnan says. “They have been repeatedly ­denied because of that law, so they are wasting their money in legal fees.’’

A second legal avenue is dicey. Inmates are entitled to judicial ­appeals (known as PKs). At first glance, it appears attractive, with most having exercised their first PK, a special appeal that enables sentence reductions.

However, drug crimes fall into an extraordinary category beside terrorism and corruption. This means not only are chances of a successful appeal slim, but they allow for sentences to be upgraded to the death penalty, as happened to four of the nine in 2006, before they were reduced.

The fear is death sentences could be reimposed. “That shouldn’t happen, but it can,’’ Adnan says. “In Indonesia a lot of things happen outside the written law. Sometimes it’s just a political atmosphere that is involved.”

Millions of Australians watched television footage of the Australia-bound gang’s arrest in 2005 at Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport with heroin taped to their bodies.

Australian Federal Police acted on a tip-off that triggered the arrests: five at Bali’s airport and four at a Kuta hotel.

Revulsion at the impending ­executions has reinvigorated the debate about the AFP’s role. The question remains: Why did the AFP — armed with information 10 weeks before the operation — not arrest them on Australian soil?

Had they done so, the Bali Nine would not have been exposed to the death penalty or life sentences.

While Bali Nine members say a life sentence is like a slow death, the heavy-handed treatment of Sukumaran and Chan has deva­stated them.

“It’s like a game. They shouldn’t play with lives,’’ Nguyen complains. “I am afraid of being next. If they treat them like that, what’s going to happen to us?’’

Despite the odds and legal minefield, the six serving life ­imprisonment will pursue fresh appeals for fixed terms together.

“The situation is very stressful,’’ Nguyen says. “We have to sit together. We have to do the appeals at the same time. It is not a good time for the Bali Nine to split up.’’

Stephens, a former bartender from Wollongong, says the pending executions remove all hope of freedom or redemption.

For 10 years, Australians have followed the lives of the hapless nine. A decade down the track, how are they coping?

‘’I couldn’t do 10 more years,’’ says Rush, adding everyone is afraid to appeal.

Three other couriers — Si Yi Chen, 30, Matthew Norman, 29, and Nguyen — spent two years on death row before reductions to life imprisonment in 2008. They — and Stephens — were devastated when in 2013 applications to ­reduce their life terms failed.

At the 2006 trials, Adnan ­observed, all of the Bali Nine faced uphill battles on appeals or ­requests for clemency from the ­Indonesian president.

“If there is any hope, it’s because of Australian-Indonesian ties,” he said. “Other than that, I see the chances of a successful ­appeal as very slim.’’

Asked if he wishes he could turn back the clock, Rush replies that he was under duress on his trip to Bali: “I was in a very vulnerable position, I regret being too cowardly.”

Rush and his old school friend Czugaj had never travelled outside Australia when Nguyen recruited them, offering an all-expenses-paid trip to Bali.

Rush, Czugaj and Norman were teenagers when they were ­arrested and they have grown up behind bars devoid of the normal yardsticks.

A reedy figure in shorts, T-shirt and baseball cap worn backwards, Rush sits behind the iron bars in Karangasem jail and reflects on the day of his arrest. “I just wanted to go home.’’

He describes the scenes at the airport as the police surrounded them as an out-of-body experience: “I felt no emotion. I was in a kind of shock. Renae asked, ‘Are they going to shoot us now’ and I said, ‘Yeah, probably.’”


Source: The Australian, Deborah Cassrels, April 13, 2015 (local time)

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