Thursday, 6 March 2008

Three of 'Bali 9' off death row: Indonesia

The death threat hanging over three Australians convicted of heroin smuggling has been overturned after a judicial review of their sentences, according to their Indonesian lawyers.

Australian newspapers reported today that Si Yi Chen, Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen and Matthew Norman were successful in their bid for the Supreme Court to overturn the decision that raised their punishment to the death penalty.

A different panel of Supreme Court judges imposed the death penalty on the three in September 2006.

The Australian reported the decision was made on 11 February, and a copy had since been sent to the Denpasar District Court, where the application for judicial review was heard.

Their Jakarta-based lawyer Farhat Abbas said it was the first time the Supreme Court had overturned a death sentence in a drugs case.

The Courier-Mail reported one of the judges said their youth, good character and remorse before the court were all factors in its decision to grant mercy.

The three men were part of a group of nine Australians convicted of attempting to smuggle 8.3 kilograms of heroin from Bali to Australia in April 2005.

Four of the group -- the so-called 'mules' -- were arrested at Denpasar Airport with the drugs strapped to their bodies. Chen, Nguyen and Norman were arrested at the Melasti Hotel, with 350 grams of heroin in a suitcase in their room. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were arrested and charged with organising the conspiracy.

The decision leaves just three of the group on death row: Chan and Sukumaran, and Scott Rush, the only 'mule' now under sentence of death.

Cautious hope for Rush
Rush's father and his Australian lawyers said the decision offered hope he could successfully appeal his death sentence, although they were cautious about raising hopes at this stage.

His father Lee told the ABC that "there's an opportunity there, but we're dealing with the unknown".

"We've had them up before and you go down again. So we don't want to get our hopes up."

Colin McDonald, Rush's Darwin-based barrister, told Fairfax Media reporters the decision offered a "very valuable - and potentially very powerful - legal precedent to have his sentence downgraded to 20 years' jail".

He described his client as "a drug mule on the bottom of the hierarchy of drug importation crimes", saying Rush's co-accused who had played an identical role in the operation received either 20 years or life.

"From here, we are going to proceed cautiously and carefully in a long history of rollercoaster emotions and disappointments," he said.

He said "now, combined, all of the drug mules save Scott Rush have avoided the death penalty".

"It would be manifestly excessive, and now wrong, to allow the death sentence to stand."

Mr McDonald said Rush would make an application to the Supreme Court in the next three weeks.

Another of his Australian lawyers, John North, agreed Rush was "a unique position ... as being the only one of the airport couriers who has received the death sentence".

"And so we've always felt he's had a strong case. But it's good to see the Indonesian Supreme Court has recognised that the Melasti three don't deserve the death penalty," he said.

The decision reported today brings a measure of certainty for the three men, who have seen their original sentence of life in prison reduced on appeal to twenty years, then raised to the death penalty after a further appeal by prosecutors.

The Supreme Court sentenced them to death in September 2006, despite prosecutors only asking that the original life sentences be reinstated.

The three still face the daunting prospect of spending the rest of their lives in an Indonesian jail.

Related stories:
Indonesia: Right to life and execution -- 30 October, 2007
Bali 9 challenge may win and fail -- 03 June, 2007
Drug penalty violates international law -- 06 May, 2007
Australians appeal Bali death sentences -- 02 May, 2007
Firing squad for six of Bali nine -- 10 September, 2006
Bali 9 death sentence confirmed -- 26 April, 2006