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Bali 9: Turnbull government considers plan to gag AFP in death penalty cases

Australia's federal police would be forbidden from sharing information about drug crimes if it could result in the death penalty under major changes being considered by the Turnbull government.

Just after the 1-year anniversary of the executions in Indonesia of Australian drug smuggling ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, a parliamentary review led by retiring Liberal MP Philip Ruddock has called for new guidelines to prevent such cases ever occurring again.

The bipartisan report recommends the Australian Federal Police obtain guarantees that prosecutors in partner countries will not seek to apply the death penalty in drug cases before sharing information. In situations where such guarantees cannot be obtained, the AFP should withhold the information.

"The need to combat transnational crime cannot override the need to uphold Australia's human rights obligations and avoid exposing people to the death penalty," the report says.

The AFP - widely condemned for tipping off Indonesian authorities about Chan and Sukumaran's Bali 9 heroin plot - would have to take a much more careful approach under the plan. In "high risk" cases it would defer to the Attorney-General to make the final decision about how to proceed.

Crucially, the new AFP guidelines would apply to foreign nationals as well as Australian citizens.

The AFP has defended its role in the Bali 9 case, saying it did not have enough evidence to arrest the Australians before they left for Indonesia. The AFP has not responded to requests for comment to the new report.

Official police figures released under Freedom of Information laws last year showed the AFP puts hundreds of people at risk of the death penalty every year - 95 % of them for drug offences - with its information sharing.

The report also calls on the government to redouble its efforts to have the death penalty abolished worldwide, particularly in Australia's region and in the United States.

Mr Ruddock, who has long been a leading advocate for the abolition of the death penalty, delivered the report as his final act in parliament before calling time on his 43-year political career.

"There is no place for the death penalty in the modern world," Mr Ruddock said.

Amnesty International said the report was commendable and urged the government to adopt all the recommendations.

The Human Rights Law Centre's director of advocacy and research, Emily Howie, echoed that sentiment.

"Under current laws and guidelines, if the Bali 9 case happened again tomorrow, nothing would prevent the AFP from acting in the same way. Change is clearly needed and this important report provides a blueprint for meaningful and human rights-compliant reform," she said.

The Law Council of Australia said the report should send a clear message to our regional neighbours like Indonesia that Australia will "relentlessly campaign" to see the death penalty abolished.

The report also recommends the Attorney-General's department conduct a review of its extradition and mutual assistance arrangements to ensure they align with Australia's international obligations.

Chan and Sukumaran were executed by firing squad on the Indonesian prison island of Nusa Kambangan on April 29 last year.

Australia abolished the death penalty in 1973, the same year Mr Ruddock was first elected.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, May 7, 2016

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