Death on Nusa Kambangan

Frederick Wilmot-Smith

In 2005, Australian officials learned of a plot to smuggle heroin from Indonesia to Australia. They passed the information onto the Indonesian authorities, saying they should ‘take what action they deem appropriate’. Nine people, now known as the Bali Nine, were arrested and convicted. The Australian ringleaders, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, were last night tied to a post and shot dead. They refused blindfolds. There were twelve marksmen for each prisoner, but to ease their consciences only three fired live rounds.

 Six other convicts (unrelated to the Bali Nine) were executed along with Sukumaran and Chan, including a bipolar, paranoid schizophrenic who believed that Indonesia had abolished the death penalty. A single mother of two young children was reprieved at the last moment, but her stay is apparently temporary.

The Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, who has the power to grant clemency, says he believes the executions will deter other drug traffickers. According to The Death Penalty: A Worldwide Perspective by Roger Hood and Carolyn Hoyle, however, for drug crimes ‘there simply is no reliable evidence of any kind relating to the deterrent effect of executions.’

The prison governor said he thought the men should not be executed. They acted as teachers, organisers and counsellors for other inmates, a number of whom even offered to be executed in their place. Chan, who married on Monday, was ordained as a minister and led church services. On death row, Sukumaran became an accomplished artist. His last painting, of a human heart hanging from its arteries, was signed by all nine of the prisoners awaiting execution.

The death penalty is a vivid rejection of the rehabilitative ideal; it is moved by a baser aim, vengeance. It is also about affirming state power. The decline of public executions means the act of killing itself is no longer a spectacle, but Indonesia did its best. It used fighter jets, tanks and troops to transfer two handcuffed men to Nusa Kambangan, the island where they would be executed. Photos of the officer in charge of the transfer posing with his stunned passengers soon appeared on the internet.

I once worked on a case in Texas where our client, on death row, sought to challenge his trial on account of judicial bias. We claimed and ultimately proved that the judge had been sleeping with the prosecutor. The hearing was initially scheduled for two days after the proposed execution date. We challenged this and the sentence was overturned. There’s a New Yorker cartoon of a lawyer standing by a grave: ‘Good news. Your execution was overturned on appeal.’ A number of those shot yesterday, including Chan and Sukumaran, have appeals outstanding in Indonesian courts.


  • 30 April 2015 at 7:22am
    Gert Loveday says:
    There is an interesting article in the Australian papers today about the drug culture that is rife in Indonesia even with capital punishment, the involvement of police and soldiers in the trade, and the fact that wealthy and well-connected people are not brought to book. In this context it seems the height of hypocrisy for Widodo to say he's engaged in a war on drugs. There's also the possibility that Indonesia is very happy to thumb its nose at Australia due to the contempt shown towards them by our border-protection policies. And having been to Bali and seem some disgusting Aussie tourists I can also say I'm not surprised if Indonesians have a low opinion of Australians as a whole.

  • 30 April 2015 at 9:51am
    Geoff Roberts says:
    Arthur Koestler wrote a very thorough study of capital punishment, which I read many years ago and which convinced me that there are no arguments that can be used to support the use of capital punishment for crimes of any kind. The 'hair analysis' reports from America show that mistakes are being made every day and the bizarre controversy over the use of lethal injections illustrates just how barbaric the process is. The deterrence argument has long been discredited - the only strand left is the one which relies on 'an eye for an eye' but that doesn't convince many people these days.

  • 30 April 2015 at 5:16pm
    rupert moloch says:
    Both Jokowi (progressive populist) and Abbott (reactionary buffoon) are desperate to revive their polling figures. That is the brutal expediency at base of their respective stances.

  • 5 May 2015 at 5:00pm
    John Cowan says:
    As a human being, I abhor and oppose the death penalty; but as an American, I must point out an additional motive for its use: prevention. A person who is dead can't offend again.