Monday, 11 September 2006

Firing squad for six of Bali Nine

Four more Australians are now on death row in Indonesia, following Supreme Court appeal decisions overturning their prison sentences for heroin trafficking.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Wednesday last week that Indonesia's Supreme Court had given the death penalty to Scott Rush, 20, Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen, 23, Si Yi Chen, 21, and Matthew Norman, 19.

Sydney Morning Herald journalist Mark Forbes discovered the verdicts after conducting a search of court records. The men, their lawyers and families had not been informed of the decision, and the newspaper report caught the Australian government by surprise.

It took an extraordinary day of confusion and urgent meetings on Wednesday before Supreme Court judge Iskandar Kamil and Australian diplomats confirmed the sentences.

While it was always a possibility the sentences could be increased on appeal, the decision was something of a shock because prosecutors had not requested the death penalty. Instead they had asked for the reinstatement of the life sentences given to Nguyen, Chen and Norman in February 2006, which were later reduced to 20 years' imprisonment on appeal to the Denpasar District Court.

Scott Rush had appealed to the Supreme Court against his February 2006 sentence of life imprisonment.

The men were part of the "Bali Nine", a group of Australians arrested on the island in April 2005 and later charged with trying to smuggle 8.3 kilograms of heroin to Australia.

Judge Iskandar Kamil said: "This is a serious case; the amount [of heroin] is quite large. Heavy crimes must be paid with similar punishment."

Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said he understood the judges "thought that the Bali High Court and the Denpasar District Court have been too forgiving".

The court also confirmed the death sentences imposed on Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran for allegedly organising the failed Bali Nine operation.

Renae Lawrence, the only female of the group, had not appealed against her 20 year sentence.

Different judge, different fate
In contrast to the six death sentences, a hastily convened meeting of Supreme Court judges on Wednesday gave life sentences to Bali Nine members Martin Stephens and Michael Czugaj.

The appeals from Stephens and Czugaj were heard by a different panel of judges.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Muhammad Taufik, the judge who presided over the appeals from Stephens and Czugaj said he ordered life imprisonment as "we believe a life sentence is enough for their role as couriers with no part in organising it".

Another Herald story said Muhammad Taufik told reporters: "We do not see any reason for death penalties in these cases because we see they only followed orders and received payment; they were not the brains or the drug bosses."

Australia to appeal
Legal teams for the six facing execution are now examining possible grounds for a judicial review, which usually involves a claim of new evidence or legal error in earlier judgements.

Alexander Downer said the Australian government would give its support "at the appropriate time" to any applications for clemency from Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said: "I don't think people should entertain too many optimistic thoughts because it's difficult, but we will try hard and we will put the case against the death penalty."

On Friday, John Howard said that if death sentences were still in place after all avenues of appeal had been exhausted, "I will speak to President Yudhoyono and argue very strongly, as I did to the Prime Minister of Singapore some months ago in relation to Van Nguyen, because we don't believe in the death penalty."

President Yudhoyono has never granted clemency in a capital case involving drugs.

Colin McDonald QC, the Australian lawyer representing Scott Rush, said: "If you're a betting person you wouldn't be banking on any clemency."

"Don't bury us"
Reporters said members of the Bali Nine, held in Bali's Kerobokan prison, were trying to absorb the shock, first at the conflicting reports of the court's decision and then at the news that the verdicts had been confirmed.

When he heard the news, Scott Rush told the Sydney Morning Herald: "This is making my head spin. I am sitting on death, am I?

"At first I didn't want to appeal because of this sort of thing. I was scared and me and my parents were stressed.

"But everyone said no Australians would be put to death, and now I am on death row," Rush said.

"If there is anything people can do to prevent this please make it happen because I need a second chance at life...

"Don't bury us before we are dead," he said.

In another Herald story, Rush said: "I have been learning a lot of things here [in prison]. I have been cleaning myself up. I wanted to get a degree but now I think I won't get my second chance."

Related story:
Bali 9 death sentence confirmed -- 26 April, 2006

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