Australians on Indonesia death row to be moved before executions

In this file photo taken on Feb 14, 2006, convicted Australian drug smugglers Myuran Sukumaran (left) and Andrew Chan (right), the leaders of the so-called "Bali Nine" drug-smuggling gang, are escorted by an Indonesian policeman (centre) to a court t
In this file photo taken on Feb 14, 2006, convicted Australian drug smugglers Myuran Sukumaran (left) and Andrew Chan (right), the leaders of the so-called "Bali Nine" drug-smuggling gang, are escorted by an Indonesian policeman (centre) to a court trial in Denpasar, Bali. -- PHOTO :AFP

DENPASAR, Indonesia (AFP) - Two Australian drug smugglers on death row in Indonesia will be transferred "as soon as possible" from prison for their executions, an official said Thursday, despite Canberra's insistence that their deaths would be a "grave injustice".

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the ringleaders of the so-called "Bali Nine" heroin smuggling gang, were arrested in 2005 and sentenced to death the following year.

The pair, detained at Bali's notorious Kerobokan prison, recently lost their final appeals to Indonesian President Joko Widodo for clemency and could face the firing squad this month.

Indonesian authorities announced Thursday the prisoners would be executed outside Bali, and a letter approving their transfer from jail had been signed by the justice minister. The head of Bali's prosecutors office Momock Bambang Samiarso said the time of their transfer remained undecided, but authorities would like it to be done "as soon as possible".

"The sooner the better," he told reporters in Bali.

He did not say where they would be sent.

But Indonesian officials previously said they plan to execute the Australians, as well as several other foreigners on death row, on Nusakambangan Island, which is off the main island of Java and home to a high-security prison. Six drug convicts were executed on the island last month.

Mr Samiarso said the prisoners' families - who this week travelled to Jakarta to beg Mr Widodo for mercy - would be notified of the transfer, which is likely to occur by air under heavy police guard. Indonesia has already informed Australia they intend to proceed with the executions, despite public appeals from Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

In an emotional speech Thursday in Australia's parliament Bishop pleaded for the men's lives, saying they had made "shocking mistakes" but deserved another chance.

"This motion goes to the heart of what we believe will be a grave injustice against two Australian citizens facing execution in Indonesia," she said.

"Without doubt, Andrew and Myuran need to pay for their crimes with lengthy jail sentences but they should not need to pay with their lives." But her Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi said she had "communicated consistently" with Bishop and had been clear about Jakarta's stance on drugs and the death penalty.

"I said to Julie that this is not against any one country... this is against a crime, against an extraordinary crime," she told reporters in Jakarta.

Mr Widodo has been a vocal supporter of capital punishment and warned Indonesia is facing a drugs emergency, with addictions and deaths on the rise.

Lawyers for Chan and Sukumaran have lodged a rare legal challenge to the president's decision to reject clemency, but Indonesian authorities have repeatedly said the appeal for a pardon is a death row convict's final chance to avoid the firing squad.