Executions of Bali Nine Pair Unacceptable

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
22 Jan 2015

Vice Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, prominent lawyer and spokesman for the Mercy Campaign, Professor Greg Craven

Professor Greg Craven, Vice Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University and one of Australia's leading experts on the law, is urging Australians to support a campaign to save Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran from execution in Indonesia.

The two Australians were convicted of drug trafficking by Bali's Denpassar Court in 2006. They were sentenced to execution by firing squad.

Legal appeals for both men are now exhausted.
Andrew Chan's presidential clemency bid was rejected today.

Chan,31 and Sukumaran, 33, both from Sydney, were part of the Bali Nine who attempted to traffic more than 8kg of heroin to Australia in 2005. Indonesia's new President Joko Widido rejected Sukumaran's clemency bid two weeks ago and now Chan joins his cellmate as they await three-day notice which will send them to the firing squad.

The two have spent almost a decade in Bali's grim Kerobokan Prison. Their killing field will be somewhere in a remote place in the Indonesian jungle. They will be executed by a ten-man Indonesian Army firing squad.

Human Rights Watch speaks of recommended legal changes to Indonesia law being ignored and double standards applied to some prisoners.

Bali Nine pair Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran face death by firing squad

The organisation notes that in 2007 the Indonesian Constitutional Court, as part of a case brought by Sukumaran and Chan, recommended legal changes that if a prisoner is on death row for 10 years without execution, and has been of good behaviour, the sentence should be commuted to life in jail or 20 years.

This April both men will have been in jail for 10 years and all legal representation indicates they are rehabilitated, reformed and remorseful.

Last weekend six people including two women were executed by firing squad. One of the women was the co-accused of two who were spared the death penalty. One of these spared women was named as the mastermind as well as being found to be running the drug trade inside  jail. 

Greg Craven does not believe the two Australians should be released from prison but finds execution unacceptable and is currently involved with the Mercy Campaign which is seeking clemency for the Sukumaran and Chan. The campaign has so far gathered more than 35,000 signatures.

Executions are undertaken by Indonesian soldiers

Professor Craven explains:

Our chance to cheat death

"Suddenly, in our neat and ¬ordered world, Death is not a stranger. No longer an invisible, apologetic presence in a hospital room, or lost among the mourners at a dignified funeral.

Now, a noisy thug, stalking the street with armed gunmen. Selecting victims randomly or with vile purpose, and sponsoring tele-events of live slaughter. Martin Place. The Parisian kosher supermarket. Charlie Hebdo.

And with Death comes his snide mate, Regret. If only we had anticipated. If only we could have stopped it. But you cannot bring back the dead.

So when we do have a chance to cheat death, to flaunt mercy in the face of pitilessness, we should grasp it. If there are lives we can snatch from death's haul, we should: for the sake of those lives, for ourselves, and in moral tribute to those unjustly slain.

Myuran Sukumaran and ¬Andrew Chan, the two Australian prisoners on death row in Indonesia, are just such lives. Saving them is an opportunity to spit in the face of sauntering death.

Mercy Campaign aimed at saving the lives of the Bali Nine pair

Clearly, they are no Katrina Dawson or Tori Johnson, leading blameless lives. They are men who committed wicked crimes trafficking drugs. But after they are shot to death, their Australian bodies and Australian families will be just as broken as those of our virtuous dead.

Of course, some will say convicted drug runners deserve no mercy. They took the risk and must pay the bloody penalty.

This is not the time to rehearse the standard arguments against capital punishment. Suffice to say when the state kills it is by definition a killer: only the justification varies.

But almost everyone, Australians and Indonesians, Christians, Muslims and atheists - but not ISIS and Al Qa'ida - believes in the notion of mercy. What we look for is some spark to justify it.

Sukumaran and Chan are remarkable cases here. Their last years of imprisonment have changed them. In a world where "reform" so often is an abstract possibility, they have embraced it.

Sukumaran serves his fellow prisoners. He organises painting classes, cultural and performing arts programs and drug rehabilitation initiatives. Chan, who has become deeply religious, follows the same path, assisting with first aid, counselling, sport and fund raising for worthy causes.

Mercy Campaign is collecting signatures to plead for clemency for convicted Bali Nine pair convicted of drug trafficking in 2006

Cynics would say, they would wouldn't they? But when a person genuinely rediscovers their humanity, the reason is secondary. The real question is, can we admit that humanity to ourselves? Or do we have more in common with ISIS than we care to admit, and are prepared to trade in life, if only the cause is "just"?

The other argument to blow these men apart is that they are subject to the laws of Indonesia, and we must respect those laws. Both these things are true, but they do not lead to the desired bloody conclusion.

Under Indonesian law, all prisoners on death row can receive presidential clemency. There is no ban on drug offenders. The law recognises the possibility that any prisoner may be worthy of mercy, most logically on the grounds they genuinely have reformed.

Yet new Indonesian President Joko Widodo has announced there will be no clemency at all for drug traffickers.

His anguish over the effects of drug crime is understandable. But the assertion that the universal legal possibility of clemency will not even be considered for a whole class of prisoners does not uphold the Indonesian legal system. It contradicts it.

At the same time, a dispute between the Indonesian Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court makes it unclear whether prisoners like Sukamaran and Chan have exhausted their right of appeal.

Indonesian law does not require these Australians to die. There is the real alternative of a very, very long time in jail.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran have been held in prison in Indonesia for almost 10 years

But in reality they will die, unless Australia can respectfully but firmly convince President Widodo that there has been enough death, and that mercy in a merciless world now is one of our chief national objectives.

There are two parts to this. The first is all Australians must understand that we are inextricably involved. We were helpless bystanders at Martin place and powerless viewers of Paris. But if we do and say nothing about Sukumaran and Chan, we participate passively in their deaths.

The second is that our government must act accordingly. So far, Tony Abbott has opposed execution, but said the issue cannot affect relations between the two nations. But it will affect relations with our great friend and neighbour. As we now know clearly, nothing is more personal than death, and our Prime Minister must make this crystal clear."

Greg Craven is Vice Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University. The Mercy Campaign website is at

This article first appeared in The Australian.