Australia vows to exhaust all options to save 2 death-row smugglers as judges accused of graft

Australian death row prisoners Andrew Chan (centre) and Myuran Sukumaran (left) waiting to attend a review hearing in the District Court of Denpasar on the Indonesian island of Bali in October 2010. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Australian death row prisoners Andrew Chan (centre) and Myuran Sukumaran (left) waiting to attend a review hearing in the District Court of Denpasar on the Indonesian island of Bali in October 2010. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia will pursue all legal options to save two of its citizens from execution in Indonesia, Prime Minister Tony Abbott vowed on Monday, amid reports the death penalty judges asked for bribes. "I don't want to peddle false hope but I do want everyone to understand... we are straining every fibre to help these people in a difficult position," Mr Abbott told reporters.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, on death row since 2006, face execution by firing squad as ring leaders of the so-called Bali Nine group trafficking heroin from Indonesia's Bali island into Australia. The pair recently lost their final appeals to Indonesian President Joko Widodo for clemency despite arguing that they had rehabilitated themselves in prison.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the six judges who handed down the death penalties in 2006 were accused by the pair's lawyers of offering lighter sentences in exchange for money. The allegation is contained in a letter from the lawyers to Indonesia's judicial committee claiming a breach of ethics, the newspaper said.

The lawyers, led by Mr Todung Mulya Lubis, added that the judges came under pressure from "certain parties" to deliver death sentences, the daily said. Asked about the corruption report, Mr Abbott replied: "What we understand is that there are still legal options available to these two Australians and their legal teams. We certainly appreciate that the Indonesian government doesn't normally go ahead with executions of this type while there are legal options still available. We will be trying to ensure that all legal options are exhausted before something dreadful, final and irrevocable takes place."

Mr Muhammad Rifan, a former lawyer for the pair, has reportedly said they were to be given life sentences but there was “intervention” and they were handed the death penalty.

No date has been announced for their executions, but governments with death-row prisoners in Indonesia have been invited to the Foreign Ministry later on Monday for an explanation of the process after a clemency appeal is rejected.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop warned last week that Australian tourists could boycott Indonesia if Chan, 31, and 33-year-old Sukumaran are executed.

Mr Joko has been a vocal supporter of capital punishment and pledged a tough approach to end what he has called the nation's "drug emergency".

However, Mr Abbott added: "I have made a further personal representation to President Widodo because we are obviously wanting to leave no stone unturned here."

But he said he did not want to turn the issue into a battle with Jakarta, "because if we do turn this into a test of strength, I think we are much more likely to back the Indonesians into a corner than to get the result we want".

“Like millions of Australians, I feel sick in the pit of my stomach when I think about what is quite possibly happening to these youngsters,” he said.But he said he did not want to turn the issue into a battle with Jakarta, “because if we do turn this into a test of strength, I think we are much more likely to back the Indonesians into a corner than to get the result we want”.

Ms Bishop said she said had considered a last-minute trip to Indonesia to plead for clemency, but had been talked out of it by diplomatic staff who said it could “potentially be counterproductive”.