Virgin's Branson appeals for clemency for Indonesia death row inmates
JAKARTA, Indonesia – British businessman Richard Branson has joined calls for clemency for convicted foreigners on death row in Indonesia, as an Indonesian minister warned of a renewed influx of asylum seekers into Australia if it continues to push the issue.
Virgin founder Branson said on Wednesday, March 11, he and fellow members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, former Presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil) and Ruth Dreifuss (Switzerland), had written to Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, calling the planned execution of up to 11 foreigners a barbaric and inhumane form of punishment.
"Myself and fellow members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy are willing to go to Indonesia in the next few days to speak with President Widodo and discuss our research," he wrote in a blog post.
"Several years of studies show that treating drugs as a health issue rather than a criminal issue would dramatically improve Indonesia’s drugs problems, as has happened in countries like Portugal."
Portugal decriminalized drug use in 2001. Health experts have credited Portugal's move as partly responsible for the drug addiction decline.
The full letter can be read here.
The planned executions by Indonesia of the death row inmates, most convicted on drug smuggling charges, have been condemned internationally. The group includes citizens of Australia, France, Brazil, the Philippines, Ghana, and Nigeria, as well as Indonesia.
Jokowi, who has signaled a hard line on drug crimes, has stood firm against appeals for clemency, warning others to stay out of Indonesia's sovereign affairs. The executions have been delayed while a number of legal appeals remain outstanding. (READ: Indonesia to accelerate legal process for Filipina on death row)
'People can change'
The plea for clemency came as Australian media reported that Myuran Sukumaran, 33, one of the two Australians on death row, had made a personal appeal to Jokowi by painting a portrait of the president, signing it "people can change".
Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, 31, started programs that ranged from painting to photography in the decade they were held at Kerobokan jail in Bali after their arrests in 2005 as ringleaders of the so-called "Bali Nine" drug smuggling gang.
Sukumaran's brother Chinthu said Wednesday before visiting Nusakambangan that his family remained hopeful Jokowi "will get to see how much Myuran and Andrew have done inside the prison to help the Indonesian people and that he will show mercy on our family".
Warning for Australia
But Australia's efforts to free Sukumaran and Chan have raised particular hackles and led to tensions with Indonesia.
Indonesia's chief security minister, Tedjo Edy Purdijatno, suggested on Tuesday Indonesia could release some 10,000 asylum seekers to Australia if Abbott continued to antagonize Jakarta over the executions.
Purdijatno, a controversial figure in Indonesia, noted that Canberra and Jakarta had been working together to prevent asylum seekers attempting to reach Australia by boat.
"If Canberra keeps doing things that displease Indonesia, Jakarta will surely let the illegal immigrants go to Australia," Purdijatno said on Metro TV. "There are more than 10,000 [asylum seekers] in Indonesia today. If they are let go to Australia, it will be like a human tsunami."
Purdijatno referred to comments by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has called the planned executions "revolting", that appeared to link clemency for the Australians to financial aid it gave Indonesia after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. (READ: Indonesians protest Abbott's aid reminder, collect coins to repay Australia)
Abbott, asked about Purdijatno's comments, said he was "not in the business of picking fights with anyone".
"I'm in the business of trying to find constructive solutions and we've made our position on the execution of these Australians pretty clear," he told reporters. "We think these two people who've been on death row now for a decade have been thoroughly rehabilitated and reformed." – with reports from Reuters and Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com