Execution or Possible Redemption? Indonesia Kills Bali Nine Leaders
They are dead – executed by the Indonesian government 10 years after being arrested on drug trafficking charges in Bali. Despite global pleas to spare the men, Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran – and six others: four Nigerians, a schizophrenic Brazilian, and an Indonesian – were killed on April 29, 2015, shortly after midnight by an Indonesian firing squad. In Bali, the Hindu island of many gods where people believe in karma and the land is lush and beautiful, the Indonesian government is now “clearing out” its death row prisoners – especially foreigners who have drug offenses.
Even before Barry and I left Bali at the beginning of March, I checked the news there with dread every few days to learn the fate of the two Australians. The two, known as leaders of the “Bali Nine” had already been moved from Kerobokan Prison with its 1000 inmates in Denpasar to the island of Nusa Kambangan in Java where Indonesia carries out its executions. By all accounts, Chan and Sukumaran were reformed men. Myuran earned his degree in fine arts; Andrew became a Christian minister. In harsh circumstances, they both developed and grew into good men, who helped their fellow inmates. According to a recent Guardian news report, “At a 2010 judicial review into their death sentences, the governor of Kerobokan prison, Bapak Siswanto, appeared, testifying to the men’s character and positive influence on other prisoners. ‘Instinctively my spirit says, can’t he be pardoned?’ he told judges. ‘Can’t state officials show mercy?’” <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/27/bali-nine-decade-of-turmoil-for-andrew-chan-and-myuran-sukumaran-reaches-a-gruesome-end?CMP=share_btn_fb>.
The Bali Advertiser of 21 Jan – 04 Feb., 2015, notes Sukumaran has become an artist and “teaches art to fellow inmates, operates a computer lab and a t-shirt printing room, offering the products for sale outside, with revenue flowing back to the prison. Chan has become deeply invoked in the affairs of the prison church. Each has apologized for being involved in a conspiracy to import 8.2kg of heroin from Bali to Australia in 2005. . .’We’ve changed,’ Sukumaran wrote. ‘We’ve done so much in the last six to seven years . . . We rehabilitated ourselves with the help of the guards here . . . we were doing good things'” (p. 56).
Andrew Chan’s six-page letter to his 15-year-old self is featured in a new documentary, Dear Me: The Dangers of Drugs, aimed at high school students, in which Chan chastises himself for leading a heroin trafficking ring. The director of Dear Me, Malinda Rutter, an Australian, first met Chan at Kerobokan Prison two years ago. She says, Andrew is “funny, articulate, he is charismatic and has a very caring personality. . . I’m proud to call Andrew my friend.” “I’ve seen the heartache . . . but there are human beings involved and, as a human, you should show empathy and listen to people’s stories.” . . . The documentary, produced by Wyhldfisch Productions, will be distributed to schools. (The Bali Advertiser, 04 Feb. – 18 Feb. 2015, p. 57). See a clip: <http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/bali-nine-drug-smuggler-andrew-chans-powerful-message-to-australians/story-fnq2o7dd-1227192061969>. For an overview of what happened and photos of the men, go to Michael Safi’s article: <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/27/bali-nine-decade-of-turmoil-for-andrew-chan-and-myuran-sukumaran-reaches-a-gruesome-end?CMP=share_btn_fb>.
Three appreciative fellow inmates in Kerobokan Prison, Martin Jamanuna, Rico Ricardo, and French inmate Francois Jacques Giuily, wrote an appeal to the warden to go in front of the firing squad for the Australians.
Having a human birth is an incredible gift.
But are some crimes so horrendous that execution is the only proper response?
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl describes his experience in Auschwitz during the Holocaust. In his accompanying “Logotherapy in a Nutshell,” Frankl notes, “Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment. . . . ” Frankl notes, “Let me cite the case of Dr. J. He was the only man I ever encountered in my whole life whom I would dare to call a Mephistophelean being, a satanic figure. At the time he was generally called “the mass murderer of Steinhof” (the large mental hospital in Vienna). When the Nazis started their euthanasia program, he held all the strings in his hands and was so fanatic in the job assigned to him that he tried not to let one single psychotic individual escape the gas chamber. After the war, when I came back to Vienna, I asked what had happened to Dr. J. . . . I was convinced that, like others, he had with the help of his comrades made his way to South America. More recently, however, I was consulted by a former Australian diplomat who had been imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain for many years, first in Siberia and then in the famous Lubianka prison in Moscow. While I was examining him neurologically, he suddenly asked me whether I happened to know Dr. J. After my affirmative reply he continued: ‘I made his acquaintance in Lubianka. There he died, at about the age of forty, from cancer of the urinary bladder. Before he died, however, he showed himself to be the best comrade you can imagine! He gave consolation to everybody. He lived up to the highest conceivable moral standard. He was the best friend I ever met during my long years in prison!’” (p. 133-134).
Capital punishment prevents that possibility for change, a chance for redemption and growth. A life sentence could be the best alternative for protecting others from those who commit horrendous crimes. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran made a terrible choice when they were in their early 20s. Today- April 29, 2015- ten years later, the Indonesian government killed them (and six others whose stories I don’t know). During those ten years, Chan and Sukumaran have grown and made the best of a difficult situation. And now they are dead. According to an Associated Press report today in Canberra, Australia, “The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said given that Indonesia has asked for clemency for its own nationals facing execution in other countries, ‘it is incomprehensible why it absolutely refuses to grant clemency for lesser crimes on its own territory.'” A 4/29/15 New York Times article notes, “The mass execution was the second in Indonesia this year. In January, five foreign drug convicts and one Indonesian convicted of murder were shot by firing squads on the island . . .
On Monday, April 27, two days before he was killed, Andrew Chan, married his Indonesian fiancée in a small ceremony at the prison. . .
Shortly after taking office last October, Mr. Joko declared that Indonesia was facing “a national emergency” of drug abuse, and he rejected 64 clemency appeals from death row drug convicts, most of them foreigners. Saying Indonesia had a right to exercise its drug laws, Mr. Joko’s government rejected international pleas to cancel the executions, including from Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the United Nations.”(<http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/29/world/asia/indonesia-execution.html?_r=0>).
Ironically, Indonesia has shown compassion for those involved in the 2002 and 2005 Bali Bombings that left many seriously injured and 222 dead, including 92 Australians, 38 Indonesians, 27 Brits, 7 Americans, 6 Swedes and 3 Danes. All 36 Indonesian terrorists who were sentenced to anything less than life for their parts in the 2002 and 2005 bar and restaurant attacks are now free. (<http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/paradise-for-terrorists-36-bali-bombers-that-killed-92-australians-are-walking-free/story-fni0cx12-1226904341271>). “The Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict reports that around 100 extremists, especially those involved in the 2002 Kuta bombings and the subsequent 2005 bombings in Jimbaran and Kuta, which killed 20 people, including four Australians and injured 129, including 19 Australians, have been released,” says Simon Thomsen in his 4/29/15 article. <http://www.businessinsider.com.au/its-lucky-the-bali-bombers-didnt-have-drugs-on-them-2015-2>. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that unearned suffering is redemptive, but being in an Indonesian prison for life seems to be a harsh enough penalty for the crime Chan and Sukumaran tried to do. Because of the Bali Nine, Kerobokan Prison now has programs where they had none: theater, yoga, silversmithing, art, religion . . .
So what can we do? Support leaders who are against capital punishment. Of course, do not traffic drugs! There are harsh penalties for possessing drugs in Indonesia (and other countries) too. And you can help those still in jail. The others of the “Bali Nine” have life sentences in Indonesia. Some are making the best of a horrible situation. Si Yi Chen, for instance, has with the aid of Joanna Witt of Yin Jewelry learned and taught other inmates at Kerobokan Prison to be silversmiths; those other men will be able to have good jobs when they are released. Money from the sale of the jewelry they make – the Mule Jewels (the Hope Project) – goes to providing needed nutritious food to the inmates. Go to: http://www.yinjewelryforthesoul.com/giving-back/mule-jewels-jail-project/ You may see something you like – and help people who are changing.
Personally, we can look upon others with compassion and the knowledge that they can change. Forty-one more prisoners in Indonesia are condemned to die for drug offenses.
As of 1/1/2015 the total number of death row inmates in the U.S. is 3,019! (<http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/death-row-inmates-state-and-size-death-row-year>). What are their stories and circumstances? Shouldn’t they have a chance of redemption? Can we show compassion?
If “the mass murderer of Steinhof” can become a person of “the highest conceivable moral standard,” shouldn’t our governments – as civilizing and evolving nations – and we – give all its people (no matter the crime) opportunity for growth and change?”
Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were shot today – and stopped from future growth and contributions – RIP. Blessings to those who loved them, their families – who have also suffered terribly these last 10 years – and to all those whose stories we don’t know.
Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.”
Capital punishment should be abolished worldwide. With much sorrow, Renée
June 10, 2015
P.S. Since I published this post on the day that Andrew Chen and Myuran Sukumaran were executed, I’ve come across more information about U.S. capital punishment (the euphemistic name for killing prisoners) and prisons and prisoners and the power of education. You may be interested in these sources too:
- Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard. Writer and Shakespeare scholar, Dr. Laura Bates volunteered for ten years teaching Shakespeare to prisoners, including the worst of the worst. She highlights Larry Newton, imprisoned for life with no possibility for parole, who grows from his 5th grade education to earning As in college classes and leading fellow inmates to reflect on their own lives and choices through questioning Shakespeare’s characters. Newton had been sentenced when he was 17 and had spent 10 years in solitary confinement before he met teacher Dr. Laura Bates – and Shakespeare. Newton shows what can happen when even the most unlikely student embraces education. The book also shows the grim and dangerous existence of those incarcerated. I recommend it highly. Go to http://www.amazon.com/Shakespeare-Saved-My-Life-Solitary/dp/1402273142.
- A Place to Stand – a documentary about Jimmy Santiago Baca – a street thug who taught himself to read – and became a published poet – while he was imprisoned in the 1970s in the U.S. Jimmy’s story is more evidence about the power of education. It also shows the resilience of the human spirit (although Jimmy’s story is the exception to what happens to most prisoners). Go to: < http://aplacetostandmovie.com>.
- If you want more evidence to show why capital punishment should be outlawed, see the June 2015 featured article in The Atlantic Monthly, “Cruel and Unusual? The botched execution of Clayton Lockett—and how capital punishment became so surreal” by Jeffrey E. Stern. Go to http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/06/execution-clayton-lockett/392069/.
- And, I found a little notice that Nebraska – a very conservative state – on May 27, 2015 rescinded capital punishment! Go to http://www.omaha.com/news/legislature/live-coverage-fate-of-death-penalty-in-nebraska-hinges-on/article_32726c27-0ef4-5415-9d07-f90f08707602.html.
Tags: "A Place to Stand", "Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard" by Dr. Laura Bates, Andrew Chan, Bali Nine, Capital punishment, Executions, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Kerobokan Prison, Mule Jewels, Myuran Sukumaran, Nebraska, Si Yi Chen, Viktor Frankl, Yin Jewelry