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

Friday, April 29, 2016

Memories of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran can help us fight the death penalty

Immense public support surrounded the Mercy Campaign's effort to save 2 Australians from death row. We can't let the lessons learnt from that go to waste

A year on, people still approach me to talk about what they were doing and how they were feeling the night of the Indonesian executions.

The partner of an accounting firm told me how he couldn't sleep that night, and spent until dawn watching Sky news and crying.

A mobile phone wholesaler in Melbourne jumped on a last minute flight to Sydney because he heard there was a vigil in Martin Place and he wanted to be around people who cared.

Others - whose churchgoing habits were dusty - found themselves praying.

On the Mercy Campaign Facebook page, conversations went on through the night: "I can't believe this is actually happening" or "I can't believe how affected I am by this".

For the 1st part of last year, it felt like the executions were all anyone could talk about. Would Indonesia do it? Could Australia intervene? Should Australia intervene? Did the "Bali 9" pair Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan deserve it?

There was an emotional tenor that ran through the debate that marked it as different from other issues. Both Julie Bishop and Tanya Plibersek were at their most compassionate and eloquent when speaking about the death penalty in parliament.

People signed petitions (the Mercy Campaign collected 250,000 signatures), attended vigils, wrote to the Indonesian president directly, begging that Chan's and Sukumaran's lives be spared. Thousands of songs, pieces of artwork, poems and videos were created pleading for mercy. We used to post them on the campaign Facebook page, but towards the end there were so many that we couldn't keep track.

And yet ...

A year ago 8 men - among them the Australians Chan and Sukumaran - were killed by firing squad in Indonesia, while their families kept vigil on the mainland, close enough to hear the gunshots.

After the sound came the fury. Australia withdrew its ambassador to Indonesia, foreign minister Julie Bishop did not rule out reducing Australia's foreign aid to Indonesia then-prime minister Tony Abbott also didn't mince words:

We respect Indonesia's sovereignty, but we do deplore what's been done and this cannot be simply business as usual.

Then a lull.

No one else has been killed by firing squad in Indonesia, although plenty remain on death row. The global outpouring of condemnation surely played a part in this but that hasn't been the local rationale.

Earlier this year, Indonesian media reported that economic concerns over the executions had lead to an unofficial moratorium but this is cold comfort. Unless there is a total abolition of the death penalty in Indonesia, those on death row are vulnerable to sudden announcements about executions - the government needs to give only 3 days notice for an execution.

So it could happen again, and rumours are that it could happen soon. It's already happening - all the time - in the United States, Vietnam, China, Japan, Yemen, Egypt, India, North Korea, Malaysia just to name a few.

Australians have shown they can organise and unite en masse against the death penalty when their citizens are at risk of being executed (Indonesia has shown the same capacity when its citizens are subject to the death penalty abroad). It was Chan's and Sukumaran's wish that the fight against the death penalty continue regardless of the outcome of their own clemency plea.

Here are some of the lessons we learnt from the Mercy Campaign.

Empathy is crucial

Ambulances carrying the coffins of the executed prisoners
Ambulances carrying the coffins of the executed prisoners
Sukumaran, Chan and their families were leading the news bulletins for more than 50 days from the end of 2014 to their deaths in April 2015. The more we heard their story - about the work they were doing in prison, about the community they built in Kerobokan, about their rehabilitation - the more difficult it was to cold-heartedly dismiss their plight.

Many people commenting on the Mercy Campaign Facebook page would often say, "I feel like I know them."

The media has power

There was little empathy for Sukumaran and Chan in the early days of their incarceration when News Corp media assigned them cartoonish monikers of the Enforcer and the Kingpin. That proved a hard perception to shake. When journalist Mark Davis gained access to Kerobokan he asked them about this tag. They both burst out laughing at the absurdity of it.

What drug kingpin drives a second hand car and lives with his parents, asked Andrew.

In the end, Chan and Sukumaran's executions stung Indonesia's economy, not its conscience.

Sukumaran told The Monthly: "I'm still looking for my 'green Mercedes' and my 'many girlfriends'."

Yet coverage of Myuran and Andrew in News Corp papers shifted markedly in the final years of their lives. The Courier-Mail published a powerful editorial in January 2015 denouncing the executions and The Australian ran a compelling front page with every living prime minister pleading with the Indonesian president for mercy. News Corp's stance had well and truly softened and public opinion followed. By the end of their lives, some of the most compassionate pieces of journalism about Sukumaran and Chan were written by News Corp journalists.

The clemency movement is diverse

The Catholic church has had a long and noble tradition in this country in taking the lead in activism on death penalty cases, from Ronald Ryan to Van Nguyen. This time, while there was support from institutions such as the Australian Catholic University and regular vigils at churches in Melbourne, other groups and individuals from vastly different spheres stepped up and became very powerful advocates for clemency.

Supporters for clemency included the artist Ben Quilty, musicians such as Temper Trap and the Presets, broadcaster Alan Jones, the legal community - particularly in Melbourne - some unions, and clergy from a variety of faiths, including Christian and Muslim.

It was an incredible coalition of people from both the left and right, and everything in between. The apolitical nature of the campaign and this diversity and made the movement for clemency inclusive and stronger.

Politicians showed leadership - and that matters

There are so many pressing social issues - such as treatment of asylum seekers - where there is no leadership from the ruling party, and also no dissent from the opposition. Yet last year, support for clemency was bi-partisan, sending a strong message that Australia does not support the death penalty, either here or abroad.

A year on, and now our politicians - indeed all of us that deplored the executions in Indonesia - need to keep fighting to ensure that it doesn't happen again.

Source: The Guardian, Opinion, Brigid Delaney, April 28, 2016. Brigid Delaney was a co-founder of the Mercy Campaign.


The 8 people executed on April 29, 2015

Andrew Chan, Australia - a member of the Bali 9 drug smugglers. In his decade of imprisonment he became a pastor and helped many fellow inmates through counselling.

Myuran Sukumaran, Australia - dubbed a ringleader of the Bali 9 along with Chan, he became an accomplished painter behind bars and helped inmates find purpose and skills through art programs.

Rodrigo Gularte, Brazil - executed despite being twice diagnosed with schizophrenia. Arrested at Jakarta airport in 2004 with 6kg of cocaine, Gularte did not understand he was going to be executed until the final moments.

Martin Anderson, Nigeria - arrested in Jakarta in 2003 for possessing about 1.8 ounces of heroin. Police shot him in the leg during his arrest and the injury troubled him for his remaining years.

Okwuduli Oyatanze, Nigeria - sentenced to death in 2002 for attempting to bring 2.5kg of heroin through Jakarta in capsules inside his stomach. He was a gospel singer whose deep Christian faith touched many who met him.

Raheem Salami, Nigeria - was homeless in Bangkok when he was offered $400 to take a package of clothes to Indonesia. He was arrested in Surabaya with 5.5kg of heroin and originally sentenced to life in prison in 1999.

Silvester Obiekwe Nwolise, Nigeria - convicted in 2002 of smuggling just over a kilogram of heroin into Indonesia. He was lured to Pakistan with the promise of work, but instead offered the task of flying to Indonesia with what he thought were capsules of goat horn powder.

Zainal Abidin, Indonesia - A laborer from Palembang, Abidin was transferred for execution despite having a live judicial appeal. 2 men convicted with Abidin, who he claimed were the masterminds of a plot to sell marijuana, served prison sentences and were released.

Source: rappler.com, April 28, 2016

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