Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Chan and Sukumaran

Amnesty International rang me this afternoon asking me to attend a vigil for Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, who are likely to be executed in Indonesia in the next couple of weeks. I am an Amnesty member and against the death penalty, so it should be a no-brainer. I probably will be there.

But I feel very conflicted about it. Here is why.

Indonesia's sovereignty. The Republic of Indonesia has always had the death penalty, and they have used it regularly since 1973. People inside and outside the country can pressure them to repeal it for all the excellent reasons that apply everywhere else too. And of course in this particular case we can appeal for clemency and so on. But we have done those things. Sometimes they may work but in this case the President of the country has considered it and declined.

The big picture. I want the death penalty repealed in Indonesia. Bashing Joko Widodo over the head with the specifics of this case – the involvement of the AFP, the rehabilitation efforts of the men, their distraught families – none of that will actually help push Indonesia to repeal.

Collateral damage.  In pushing Indonesia to repeal, we need to pick our battles. It’s like selecting a test case to take to court. You may be one of many victims of a criminal, but yours is not the clearest case. The police take another case to court knowing that they have a better chance for conviction. Your own case may never be heard, you are just collateral damage in a larger war. If people in Australia would like test the death penalty in Indonesia, maybe take a wider interest in Indonesian justice. We hear that its corrupt, patchy, painfully slow. Maybe more Australians could get behind an international organisation like Amnesty that tries to work within existing frameworks, applying leverage in the most effective way. You can bet that there are dozens of Indonesian citizens on death row whose convictions were not so cut and dried. I’d rather devote my efforts to having their cases re-examined, saving them and demonstrating the pitfalls of the death penalty, anywhere, for anyone. These Australians may just be collateral damage in a longer struggle.

Consistency. [Take away the death penalty for a second.] If you want to intervene to change their sentence, is it because they are Aussies? Because they are sorry? Because they were dudded by the AFP? Because they lead prayer groups and painting classes?  I don’t feel like I want to change someone’s sentence on that basis. They were guilty, they did a terrible thing and dragged seven others down with them. Rehab is great, good for them, but it was not a hard thing to choose. For me they can rot in jail. [OK, bring back the death penalty.] Now I have to act whether I like it or not. I argued against death for the Bali bombers. Even for Russell Brewer. But I am pretty sure Alan Jones wasn't on my side then.

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