Convicts in the dark for hours about Indonesia execution reprieve

 Indonesian policemen arrive to cross to Nusakambangan island at the Cilacap port on July 25, 2016.
Indonesian policemen arrive to cross to Nusakambangan island at the Cilacap port on July 25, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (AFP) - Ten drug convicts spared during a chaotic execution in Indonesia were only officially informed they would not be shot hours after they had expected to face the firing squad, a lawyer said Wednesday (Aug 3).

Despite international protests, one Indonesian and three Nigerian convicts were put to death shortly after midnight Friday on a prison island - Jakarta's first round of executions for over a year.

But another 10 death row prisoners, including Indonesians as well as nationals from Pakistan, India, Zimbabwe and Nigeria, were not executed, although authorities have suggested they will face the firing squad at a later date.

It is still not clear why the group were pulled from the latest round and the process has attracted strong condemnation, with one lawyer calling it a "complete mess".

Authorities have not given a clear explanation but theories have ranged from concerns over legal problems with several cases to a major storm that hit the island as officials were about to carry out the sentences.

Adding to the sense of chaos, a lawyer for one of the 10 said they were not officially informed their executions were being halted until around 6am on Friday (2300 GMT Thursday) - about five hours after the executions took place, and four hours after authorities had announced it to the media.

Lawyer Arinta Singgih - who represented one of the group, Indonesian woman Merri Utami - said that as the hours passed, the group suspected they had been spared, but it was not clear for some time.

"At six o'clock, the doors of the isolation cells were opened," Singgih told AFP, referring to the cells where death row convicts wait before being executed.

"Guessing that they would not be executed, they walked out of the doors and hugged each other in joy."

They were then informed by officials that they would not be executed but were not given an explanation, she said.

Only hours earlier a prison warden had told Utami, whom activists have claimed is innocent and was tricked into becoming a drug mule, to get ready to leave her cell. However moments later the warden told her to stay put - leading her to suspect the execution might not go ahead.

Last week's executions were the third under President Joko Widodo since he took office in 2014. The last round was in April 2015, when authorities put to death eight drug convicts, including two Australians.