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

Monday, August 22, 2016

Facing the firing squad: the agonising wait on death row at Indonesia's island prison

Death row isolation cells on Nusakambangan Penal island Indonesia
Death-row isolation cells on Nusakambangan penal island, Indonesia.
We were sheltered in a car at Port Cilicap, the gateway to Indonesia's Nusa Kambangan island prison, with few places to take cover outside. It was a torrential downpour so heavy you could barely see your hands in front of your face.

It was 11:30pm on July 28, so heavy was the rain that speculation was mounting the firing squad could not complete its gruesome duty that day. The targets tied to wooden posts, either kneeling or standing, would be too hard to see.

But by 2:30am, as thunder cracked over the prison island, we received word that the executions had taken place as planned.

In the hours ahead we would establish it had been a day of confusion, mismanagement and deep human suffering.

We'd arrived at Cilacap earlier that morning knowing the inmates had been given 72 hours notice, meaning they should face the firing squad sometime after midnight on the Friday.

Not long after at the prosecutor's office, the families began to emerge after being told the executions would take place that evening, short of the 72 hours notice required, a self-imposed rule Indonesia seems to largely disregard.

The raw grief was palpable. So hard to watch and to hear.

The family of Pakistani man Zulfikar Ali had just been told he would soon die. His wife could barely stand.

Earlier that week I had visited the Pakistani embassy where, unexpectedly, I'd established there was a widespread deep and real question mark over Ali's innocence.

I sat with the deputy head of mission while he explained that while Pakistan supports the death penalty, there had been at least 2 extensive reports showing Ali was innocent.

So much so that even the former Indonesian president Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie appealed to President Widodo to save this man's life.

Later on the prison island, the families gathered in a specially erected tent to sit and wait until the deed was done.

The lightning and thunder prevented them from hearing the sound of gunfire.

"They were all in their cells ... and obviously we could see it wasn't going to happen because it was too late and time was going on," Father Burrows told me.

3 Nigerians and 1 Indonesian, all involved in drug crimes, were executed.

Another 10 inmates, who had just lived through what they believed to be the last moments of their lives, were not.

"It all happened pretty quickly in the end," said Father Burrows.

"All the spiritual accompaniers went together to the shooting place, with the ones who were actually active, and we were all asked to wait there and we said a few prayers together."

Father Burrows described the mental state of the 4 men in those final moments.

"There was a lot of anger -but eventually, usually they realise that they're going to die, so it's best you try and die with dignity."

Indonesia provided no clarification as to why some of the inmates were spared that night, and whether the excruciating day for inmates and families would be relived in the future.

No apology, no explanation, no reason.

Source: abc.net.au, Samantha Hawley, August 22, 2016

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