Australia PM uses tsunami aid to pressure Indonesia over executions

Convicted Australian drug smugglers Myuran Sukumaran (left) and Andrew Chan (right) sit inside Kerobokan prison in Denpasar, Bali. Chan, who is on death row in Indonesia, has lost his appeal for presidential clemency, his final chance to avoid the fi
Convicted Australian drug smugglers Myuran Sukumaran (left) and Andrew Chan (right) sit inside Kerobokan prison in Denpasar, Bali. Chan, who is on death row in Indonesia, has lost his appeal for presidential clemency, his final chance to avoid the firing squad, an official said on Jan 22, 2015, days after Jakarta executed five foreign drug offenders. -- PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (AFP) - Prime Minister Tony Abbott urged Indonesia to remember Canberra’s significant help in dealing with the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami as he ramped up pressure to spare two Australians on death row.

Indonesian authorities have confirmed that Andrew Chan, 31, and Myuran Sukumaran, 33, ringleaders of the so-called Bali Nine heroin trafficking group, will be among the next set of prisoners to face the firing squad.  But they have been tight-lipped about when the executions will take place and which other foreign convicts will join them.  

Abbott said he continued to make “the strongest possible personal representations” to Indonesian President Joko Widodo and warned he would feel “grievously let down” if his pleas for clemency were ignored.

“Australia sent a billion dollars worth of assistance,” he said, referring to the aftermath of the tsunami that left 220,000 people dead across 14 countries, almost 170,000 from Indonesia.  

“We sent a significant contingent of our armed forces to help in Indonesia with humanitarian relief....I would say to the Indonesian people and the Indonesian government – we in Australia are always there to help you and we hope that you might reciprocate in this way at this time.”

On Tuesday, Chan and Sukumaran were given a glimmer of hope when their transfer to the prison where they are due to be shot was postponed with the Indonesian attorney-general’s office saying it would not go ahead this week.  The delay was in response to Canberra urging more time for the families to be with their loved ones, and logistical difficulties involving capacity at the Nusakambangan island jail.

- ‘Make displeasure known’ -

Despite this, Indonesia insisted the killing of the Australians – who are on death row along with citizens from France, Ghana, Brazil and Nigeria – would go ahead, having lost their appeals for presidential clemency.

“We will be making our displeasure known. We will be letting Indonesia know in absolutely unambiguous terms that we feel grievously let down,” Abbott said when asked what would happen if the executions went ahead.

“I don’t want to prejudice the best possible relations with a very important friend and neighbour.

“But I’ve got to say that we can’t just ignore this kind of thing – if the perfectly reasonable representations that we are making to Indonesia are ignored by them,” he said.

Relations between the neighbours have been on an even keel in recent months, recovering from a damaging rift in 2014 over spying revelations and people-smuggling.  

Legal and diplomatic efforts to save the Australians have escalated in recent weeks, with every surviving former prime minister of Australia urging Jakarta to spare their lives.

On Tuesday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi noted their pleas but insisted “this issue is purely a law enforcement issue”.

However, her Australian counterpart Julie Bishop disagreed. “Indonesia itself makes representations to other governments to stay executions of their nationals who find themselves on death row in countries overseas,” she told ABC radio.  “I know that the foreign minister is part of making those representations, so when Indonesia does it, it is indeed a foreign policy matter because it involves the foreign minister.”

Lawyers for Chan and Sukumaran have a court date next Tuesday to examine a last-ditch claim that Widodo did not follow the rules in rejecting their clemency bids.