Bali Nine's Chan and Sukumaran: Tragic pawns in a political game

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Senior members of the Abbott Government would rather jockey for leadership positions and fight for their own petty political survival than fight for the lives of the two Bali Nine deathrow inmates, writes Lyn Bender.

In what may be their last hours, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran seem to be particularly unlucky.

Pawns in a political game for ten years, the timing of their last appeal for clemency is particularly catastrophic.

A “terminal” Prime Minister in his own death throes, who has not demonstrated any capacity for compassion, has proven little help in pleading their case. In my view, he may have given the final wink and nod to their fate at the hands of a firing squad, with his endorsement of Indonesia’s sovereignty perhaps delivering the critical blow.

Reading between these lines by Prime Minister Abbott, reported by on 8 January 2015 (further context image right):

“My profound hope is that these executions will not go ahead. What I’m not going to do, though, is jeopardise the relationship with Indonesia. That would be foolish to jeopardise the relationship with Indonesia and we believe that we can make the strongest possible representations on behalf of our citizens on death row in Indonesia while at the same time preserving a strong and constructive relationship.”

How is that for a lukewarm plea? 

On political death row himself, there is no shirtfronting by Abbott happening at this desperate eleventh hour — at least not with respect to Indonesian authorities .

And no political arm-twisting by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop either, as she concentrates on evaluating her future in Australia's terminal Liberal Government.

No, because Australia, after all, handed the “Bali Nine” over to Indonesian authorities, ten years ago, in full knowledge that they could receive the death penalty. Are Chan and Sukumaran “sacrificial lambs” offered up to achieve the policy objectives of the then Howard Government?

Barrister Bob Myers thinks this is exactly the deal and that he and the Bali Nine were used.

Ten years ago, in an attempt to stop Scott Rush going to Bali as a drug mule, Myers tipped off the Federal Police regarding the Bali Nine. Myers claims they reneged on an undertaking to apprehend the drug smugglers on Australian soil. In fact, says Myers, it was all “lies and deception”

Myers states that they led him to believe they would do everything they could to avoid the death penalty; that they feigned concern and acted as though all the information was coming from Indonesia when actually the AFP had given it to the Indonesian authorities, knowing full well the death penalty would apply.

Myers believes that the Federal Police were already aware of the operation. After lengthy arguments, processes, court battles and appeals, seven of the Bali Nine received prison sentences but were spared the death penalty, leaving only Chan and Sukumaran on death row.

The whole fiasco was part of information sharing post the 2002 Bali bombings which killed 86 Australians. The Bali Nine were collateral damage in the cause of the war on terror. Myers also believes the orders came from the then Attorney General – now Government whip – Philip Ruddock. He has denied political influence on the AFP. Ironically, Ruddock associates himself with Amnesty International.

Ten years on, the roller coaster ride on death row is still cruel and inhuman punishment, while our Government does little to secure mercy for its Australian citizens — the unlucky Bali Two.

Capital punishment does not deter. Vengeful capital punishment sends a dark signal that can brutalize and cause more homicides. State sanctioned killing is still murder.

Professor Sarah Joseph says that studies don’t demonstrate that the death penalty deters. Other studies indicate they may, indeed, have  a brutalizing effect.

“We are all more than the worst thing we have ever done."

This is the opinion of Bryan Stevenson, academic, human rights campaigner and public interest lawyer, who has worked passionately against the death penalty.

More than two thirds of the world’s nations have abolished the death penalty.

The most likely innocent Ronald Ryan was the last person to be executed in Australia in 1967. His hanging caused a huge outcry. The death penalty was abolished in Australia in 1985.

The mood at the Keep Hope Alive Amnesty vigil in Melbourne was sombre. On the steps of the Amphitheatre at Melbourne’s Federation Square, we sat in silence holding beaming sunflowers and signs calling for mercy. Passers-by walked on, seemingly heartlessly. It was a metaphor that reflected how successive Australian governments have slept through and sidestepped this unfolding tragedy.

Now we are at the eleventh hour, impotently waiting for the final shots to ring out.

Messages from the condemned expressing gratitude for our support were read almost tearfully.

The mood was funereal. An ABC radio journalist sat beside me recording the speeches.

Pretty young women in Amnesty t-shirts gave out letters to be signed and sent to the Indonesian authorities. No politicians were there to address the gathering of sympathisers. I guess it was not considered a vote catcher. A little girl aged about four put her fingers to her lips and said ‘shush’ softly, as I smiled at her. The hushed mood could subdue even a pre-schooler.

I walked along the Yarra River and thought about what it must be like to be imprisoned young men facing your final hours. I thought about the grief of their friends family and supporters. I felt inexpressibly miserably downcast.

I awoke at three in the morning with sharp gut-wrenching pains. Was it something I had eaten or a dark substance I had absorbed of terror and sorrow?

I thought of the condemned, maybe roughly pulled from an uneasy sleep in the middle of the night and taken to a place of execution. Would they take a last look at the dark sky? They are given the option to lie sit or stand. Is the blindfold meant to be a flimsy defence against the reality of facing the guns aimed at your targeted heart? If they fail to die under the firing squad, a bullet to the head will finally dispatch them.

The death penalty is undeniably barbaric and gut wrenchingly inhumane. It denies the humanity of us all and of these two young men.

When asked on SBS dateline by Mark Davis:

"Do you consider the death penalty — that it may be imposed?"

Sukumaran responded, blinking:

“Yeah. Almost every night."

It seems Australia, a country that abolished capital punishment last century, cannot make a passionate strong and powerful plea to save its own. In fact, it has delivered them to their fate.

In perhaps one of his last acts as prime minister, Tony Abbott could choose to fight the noble fight for the lives of these two Australian citizens. But instead, he would rather to battle for his own petty political survival.

It has been announced that the executions will occur before the end of this month. These men may not be saved, but what of others?

Will Australia have its act together next time?

You can follow Lyn Bender on Twitter @lynestel.

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