Indonesia defends executions as 'war' on drugs, Australia recalls its ambassador

  • Agencies, Cilacap (Indonesia)/Sydney
  • Updated: Apr 29, 2015 11:32 IST

Indonesian firing squads executed eight convicted drug traffickers, including seven foreigners, on Wednesday, prompting Australia to recall its envoy to Jakarta and bringing an angry reaction from Brazil.

Indonesia's attorney general defended the execution of the foreign drug convicts, saying the country was facing a "war" against drugs.

Defying international condemnation and rejecting personal pleas for clemency from the leaders of Australia and Brazil, Indonesia executed the prisoners from Australia, Brazil and Nigeria, along with one Indonesian, shortly after midnight on Nusa Kambangan island off the southern coast of Java.

The Philippines celebrated a "miracle" eleventh-hour reprieve for Mary Jane Veloso, a young mother whose case attracted emotional appeals for mercy from boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao, among others. She was spared after someone suspected of tricking her into carrying drugs to Indonesia turned herself in to authorities in the Philippines.

Soon after the execution of two of its nationals for drug offences, Australia recalled its ambassador to Indonesia. Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the relationship with Jakarta "has suffered as a result of what's been done over the last few hours".

"We respect Indonesia's sovereignty but we do deplore what's been done and this cannot be simply business as usual," he told reporters.

"For that reason, once all the courtesies have been extended to the Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran families our ambassador will be withdrawn for consultations."

"We are fighting a war against horrible drug crimes that threaten our nation's survival," Indonesia's attorney general Muhammad Prasetyo told reporters in Cilacap, the gateway to the high-security prison island where the executions took place.

Students hold candles as they join protesters during a vigil in front of the Indonesian embassy in Manila. (AFP Photo)

In an eleventh-hour bid to stop the executions, the European Union, Australia and France had warned in a joint statement late on Tuesday that the move would have an "impact on Indonesia's position in the world and its international reputation".

Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, ringleaders of the "Bali Nine" heroin trafficking gang, were executed by a firing squad on the high security prison island of Nusa Kambangan in the early hours of Wednesday, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop confirmed. They were sentenced in 2006.

Australia has never recalled an ambassador over a drug execution before, even during the high-profile case of 25-year-old Nguyen Tuong Van, who was put to death by Singapore in December 2005.
However, the executions were "both cruel and unnecessary", Abbott said, necessitating the "unprecedented" move to bring back Ambassador Paul Grigson.

Ties were only just recovering after sinking to their lowest point in years in late 2013 after reports that Australian spies tried to tap the phones of then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his inner circle.

Jakarta recalled its ambassador from Canberra and suspended cooperation in several areas over the incident, including efforts to stop people-smuggling boats reaching Australia.

Australia's military-led efforts to turn back asylum-seeker boats also angered Indonesia, with tensions growing last year after its navy admitted entering the Southeast Asian nation's territorial waters.

With this in mind, Abbott was careful with his words, insisting "I don't want to make a difficult situation worse by offering gratuitous reflections on different aspects of the way this matter has been handled in recent days and week".

"As for President Widodo, look, he's a new president, his election was attended with great promise," he said.

Flower bouquets and candles are left in front of the home of Andrew Chan's parents, one of two Australian drug convicts executed by firing squad in Indonesia, in Sydney on April 29, 2015. (AFP Photo)

"I regard myself as a friend of Indonesia, I think the vast majority of Australians regard themselves as friends of Indonesia.

"My hope is that this presidency is a successful one and while this is a dark moment in the relationship I am confident that the relationship will be restored for the great benefit of both our countries."

Meanwhile, France on Wednesday condemned the executions in Indonesia and said it remained concerned about the fate of a Frenchman also on death row in the Asian country.

The government "reiterates its opposition to the death sentence, in all cases and all circumstances," said French foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal.

The French authorities "are fully mobilised to help Serge Atlaoui, whose situation remains very worrying," Nadal said in a statement, expressing his government's "solidarity" with the countries whose nationals were put to death.

Atlaoui, 51, was originally among the group set to be executed but was unexpectedly granted a temporary reprieve Saturday after Indonesia agreed to allow an outstanding legal appeal to run its course.

In Indonesian executions, convicts are led to clearings just after midnight, tied to posts and then giving the option of kneeling, standing or sitting before being executed by 12-man firing squads.

Twelve marksmen are assigned to fire at the heart of each prisoner, but only three would have live ammunition. Authorities say this is so that the executioner remains unidentified

Indonesia has harsh punishments for drug crimes and resumed executions in 2013 after a five-year gap. Six were executed earlier this year.

President Joko Widodo has been a vocal supporter of the death penalty for drug traffickers, claiming Indonesia is facing an emergency due to rising narcotics use.

Read: Indonesia executes foreign drug convicts by firing squad, defies global anger

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