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Australian-Indonesian relations threatened by executions

By Duncan Graham - posted Monday, 22 December 2014

Australians could die cruelly so Indonesia's new president looks macho.

Barring a political somersault our northern neighbour is heading for major diplomatic confrontations with Australia and other Western nations as it enforces the death penalty for drug trafficking.

New President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has categorically refused to intervene in cases where the courts have ordered executions. Speaking at a university forum in Central Java in December he said: "I guarantee that there will be no clemency for convicts who commit narcotics-related crimes."


Consequently five are expected to face the firing squad this year and 20 in 2015. The first batch is reportedly all Indonesians, but the next group could include Australians Andrew Chan, 30, and Myuran Sukumaran, 33. The two men, members of the Bali Nine drug syndicate caught in 2005 and sentenced in 2006, have exhausted all appeals.

Australia is a world leader in opposing capital punishment and would be duty bound to protest strenuously against the execution of its nationals.

In a final bid to keep their lives, Chan and Sukumaran sought clemency from former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY). He ducked the issue and retired in October.

To the dismay of human rights activists who expected Jokowi to be more sensitive to moral matters, the new president seems determined to look as hairy-chested as his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

During a brutal election campaign the civilian Jokowi was labelled weak against his rival, former army hard man Prabowo Subianto. Although SBY was a general before entering politics he dithered on decisions concerning religious conflict and drug penalties, leading the electorate to start baying for firmness in its new leader.

During his two five-year terms SBY commuted some death penalties and imposed a four-year moratorium on executions. Law reformers thought this marked the end of the death penalty and the start of a more nuanced approach to punishment.


It was a false dawn. The firing squads' M16s were cocked five times in 2013 as SBY reacted to claims he was soft on criminals. Even his former vice president Jusuf Kalla (now holding the same position under Jokowi) allegedly said SBY "was loved by drug traffickers for his leniency."

Paroling so-called 'Ganja Queen' Schapelle Corby in February 2014 cheered her Australian supporters but won SBY no applause in his homeland.

Druggies aren't the only ones to take the brunt of Jokowi's determination to prove he's really Rambo in batik. Foreign fishing boats dropping their lines in Indonesian waters have also been in the President's sights; literally, as the offending vessels have been used as target practice by the navy.

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About the Author

Duncan Graham is a Perth journalist who now lives in Indonesia in winter and New Zealand in summer. He is the author of The People Next Door (University of Western Australia Press) and Doing Business Next Door (Wordstars). He blogs atIndonesia Now.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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