Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Australians appeal Bali death sentences

Six Australians sentenced to death in Indonesia took two separate appeals to court today in an effort to avoid execution for drug trafficking.

The six men were part of a group of nine Australians - the so-called "Bali Nine" - who were arrested in April 2005 and later charged with trying to smuggle 8.3 kilograms of heroin to Australia.

'Court errors'
Si Yi Chen, 22, Matthew Norman, 20 and Thanh Duc Tan Nguyen, 24, appeared in Bali's Denpasar District Court today with their hands in shackles for the first hearing of their judicial review.

They have asked the Supreme Court to overturn its earlier decision upgrading their sentences to death.

Late last month, their lawyers lodged written submissions arguing the court did not consider the full facts of the cases when it changed their sentences from 20 years to death.

A. R. Henry, a member of their legal team, said: "The court cannot change from 20 years to the death penalty without giving full consideration with what was wrong with the previous court decisions."

It has also been reported they will argue the death penalty violates their right to life, guaranteed under Indonesia's constitution.

Breaching the constitution
In Jakarta, lawyers for the three others sentenced to death took a challenge against the country's death penalty to the constitutional court.

Courier Scott Rush and alleged ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran are challenging the constitutional validity of the death penalty for drug offences.

A panel of nine judges convened today to hear arguments that the law under which they were sentenced to death violated their human right to life under the constitution, and Indonesia's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

International law experts testified that human rights law restricts the death penalty to "the most serious crimes", which is usually interpreted as excluding drug-related offences.

Jeffrey Fagan from Columbia University told the hearing that Indonesia was in breach of its obligations as a party to the ICCPR.

"There is no social science evidence that shows any deterrent effects of capital punishment on drug trafficking or on any other drug crime," he said.

International legal expert Andrew Byrnes, from the University of New South Wales, told the court that imposing the death penalty for drug offences would violate international law.

"This court is not being asked to break radical new ground in terms of international human rights law," he said.

"Rather, the international law has been set out very clearly."

A team of high profile Indonesian lawyers is representing the three in court, backed by leading Australian human rights lawyers.

On Sunday Lex Lasry QC and Julian McMahon flew to Indonesia to observe the hearings, joining Rush's Australian lawyer Colin McDonald QC.

Lasry and McMahon also represented Australian Van Tuong Nguyen, who was hanged for heroin smuggling in Singapore on 2 December 2005.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were sentenced to death in February 2006 for allegedly organising the failed Bali Nine operation.

Si Yi Chen, Matthew Norman and Thanh Duc Tan Nguyen were sentenced to life imprisonment in February 2006. Their sentences were reduced to 20 years' imprisonment on appeal to the Denpasar District Court.

The Supreme Court later imposed death sentences, despite the prosecutors' request only that the original life sentences be reinstated.

Scott Rush was originally sentenced to life imprisonment. When he appealed the sentence, the Supreme Court imposed a death sentence.

Related stories:
Indonesia's drug penalty 'appropriate' for syndicates -- 29 January 2007
Firing squad for six of Bali nine -- 10 September, 2006
Bali 9 death sentence confirmed -- 26 April, 2006

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