11th-hour bid to save Bali Nine duo: Australia floats prisoner swap
SYDNEY, Australia – Australia on Thursday, March 5, suggested a prisoner swap with Indonesia in an 11th hour bid to save two drug smugglers facing execution, as Prime Minister Tony Abbott attended a candlelight vigil for the men.
Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the ringleaders of the so-called "Bali Nine" drug trafficking gang, could be killed within days after being moved on Wednesday to the Indonesian island where they are due to face a firing squad.
Authorities must give convicts 72 hours' notice before they are executed and in a last-ditch effort to save them Foreign Minister Julie Bishop proposed a prisoner swap.
She said she had spoken to her counterpart Retno Marsudi in what media reports said was "a very tense phone call", but gave no concrete details.
"We are seeking opportunities to explore every option that might be available to us, every avenue that might be available to save the lives of these two men," she told reporters.
"I'm waiting to hear back from the foreign minister. I spoke to her about it, and she undertook to provide that information to the president."
She later told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation she hoped a prisoner swap could occur.
"I didn't go into any specific detail but I did note there were Australian prisoners in Jakarta and there were Indonesian prisoners in Australia and that we should explore some opportunity, a prison swap, a transfer, whether that could be done under Indonesian law," she said.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that any deal could involve three Indonesians in prison in Australia over their role in an infamous 1998 drug bust.
They were named as Kristito Mandagi, Saud Siregar and Ismunandar, the captain, chief officer and engineer respectively of a boat carrying 390 kilograms of heroin that was seized near Port Macquarie, some 400 kilometers north of Sydney.
It was Australia's largest drug bust at the time and 47 times bigger than what Chan and Sukumaran were arrested for, the Herald reported. The three, however, will be eligible for parole in 2017 and 2018.
No executions this week
Bishop's comments followed an impromptu bipartisan candlelight vigil for the pair outside the country's parliament in Canberra early Thursday, also attended by Abbott and opposition Labor leader Bill Shorten.
Abbott, who on Wednesday expressed revulsion at the looming deaths, said he had requested a final telephone call with Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to again push for the men to be spared.
"I can't guarantee that request will be met," he said.
"We respect Indonesia and we honor the friendship that we have with Indonesia, but we stand up for our values and we stand up for our citizens, and these are Australian citizens in extremis."
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Jokowi said the men would be executed soon, but not this week.
"I am still convinced that the justice system in Indonesia, if you look at drug crime, is valid and based on facts and evidence," he said. "That's why when I rejected their clemency, I looked at their cases, how many drugs they were carrying."
Implications on Indonesia's reputation
Canberra has made more than 20 representations to Indonesian officials since January regarding the pair but Widodo has been unswayed, insisting Indonesia was facing an "emergency" due to rising narcotics use and a tough line must be taken.
Bishop warned Chan and Sukumaran's execution would have implications, not just in Australia but more globally.
"Of course, I'm deeply concerned about the impact of these executions not just on the Australian relationship with Indonesia but on Indonesia's reputation worldwide," she said.
"The movement against the death penalty is very strong.
"The sense of injustice of state-sponsored killings is very real, and we have been sending a message to Indonesia that its international standing will be damaged if it continues to execute successive numbers of citizens."
Chan and Sukumaran, sentenced to death in 2006 for trying to smuggle heroin out of Indonesia, recently lost their appeals for presidential clemency, typically the last chance to avoid the firing squad.
They are among several drug convicts, including foreigners from France, Brazil, the Philippines, Ghana and Nigeria, who have lost their clemency requests and are expected to be put to death at the same time soon.
Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso, the convicted drug courier from the Philippines, is seeking a judicial review of her case. She is now waiting for the Supreme Court to decide on whether to grant the review or not after presenting her new evidence during a two-day trial at the Sleman District Court, where she was convicted in 2010.
Lawyers hired for her by the Philippine embassy argue that the 30-year-old single mother of two was not given a proper translator during her first trial, and thus deserved the judicial review. – with reports from Agence France-Presse and Reuters/Rappler.com