Last night I was deeply affected by Dateline‘s coverage of the two ‘Bali Nine’ members on death row. The program was a brilliant piece of reporting by journalist Mark Davis, which you can watch here if you missed it. ‘Bali Nine’ is the name given to a group of nine Australians arrested in April 2005 in Bali in a plan to smuggle 8.3kg of heroin to Australia. They have all been sentenced, ranging from 20 years in prison to life, and for two members- death by firing squad. Myuran Sukumaran (24 years old at the time of arrest)- crowned the ‘Kingpin’ by Australian media, and Andrew Chan (21 years old at the time of arrest)- described as ‘The Godfather’ have now exhausted all appeal avenues and are set to face death by firing squad. The only hope of the two Australians now lies with the President of Indonesia granting them clemency.
Mark Davis travels to Indonesia with the mother of ‘Bali Nine’ member Myuran Sukumaran, as she visits her son for the first time since his final appeal was rejected. He also spoke to the two prisoners about their crimes, their motivations, life in prison and the very real possibility that they will be executed shortly. What affected me most was the face given to the people around the drug smugglers- the families and loved ones. It seems every year or so, there’s an arrest in an Asian country- an Australian caught smuggling drugs and we all think “They should have known”, “Serves them right”, “Got what they deserved” and carry on with our daily lives. Dateline forced us to face the very real impact of this ordeal on the family of Myuran Sukumaran. His mother and younger siblings (brother Chinthu and sister Brintha) are interviewed and speak candidly about life at home since the fateful day when his mother wondered why his flight home had been delayed. Sukurmaran grew up in Auburn and attended Homebush Boys High. He was never in trouble in school, and has no previous convictions or run in’s with the law of any kind. After a high school friend asked him to come to a dinner, he was invited to join a ‘gang’ and Sukumaran laughed it off. From there, it was the beginning of the end.
After a week of filming, Davis says he sees Sukumaran’s sister Brintha smile for the first time as they walk around a gallery of Myuran’s prison artworks. He works on a number of activities within the prison, such as setting up an art room, planting flowers and trees, as well as teaching English and graphic design. Chinthu and Brintha seem to have lost their joy for life, there is a deep sadness in their eyes. They speak of how their mother cries all day, night times are the worst. His sister posted “I’m Just A Girl” by No Doubt on her Facebook page a few weeks ago. What has this girl’s life become? An older brother facing the firing squad because of a mistake he made as a young man, a family ripped apart forever. I feel for these innocent family members who can’t mourn Myuran, as he is not dead. But they are hardly living, and he is living in a constant grey area with the fear of the firing squad constantly hanging over his head. For five years, he has not known how long he may live. And having lost the last appeal, it may be the end of the road for Sukumaran and his family.
I felt a real injustice for the two men also, as their co-conspirators, were able to have their sentences reduced from the death penalty to life imprisonment. In this report it is shown that the main difference between those guilty parties and Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan is that they are white. Sukumaran states in the report that the caucasion members of the ‘Bali Nine’ were deemed ‘more Australian’ by the media and the public to be than these two ‘bad guy ringleaders’. I felt that perhaps had these men been a different race, a different gender, or even a different physical stature (Sukumaran is a big, tall, muscular guy which could be seen as threatening on first glance)- perhaps their aggressive sentences may have been reduced.
I am fully aware of the massive, and incredibly stupid crimes these two men have committed. The warnings to travellers have been around for many years- smuggle drugs, and you get caught, you’ll pay the price under the country’s jurisdiction. The crimes they are charged with are immensely greedy. They wanted a “quick pay day” and nothing else. No other considerations were made. They were in their early 20s and they wanted the cars, they wanted the girls, they wanted to be the high-flyers at the hottest clubs. What a stupid reason to throw your life away.
But I argue that, they should be given a second chance to rehabiliate in prison and make something of themselves? A release is not being discussed, they will almost definitely spend life in prison- that is a fact. But to be killed for a grave mistake at a young age? It’s just not right. If serial killers and child molesters in Australia receive the maximum sentence of life in prison, why should these young men face the appalling fate of being taken away in the middle of the night, tied to a post, and shot dead? The government has prisoner exchange agreements with other countries, and in the case of the death penalty, there is no excuse for them not stepping in.
In an unprecedented move, the governor of Kerobakan prison where they are being held, gave testimony at their latest appeal hearing saying that it would be a huge loss for the men to be killed. He noted all the work they were doing in the prison and with other prisoners, and said “I strongly believe that it has had a very great influence. He (Sukumaran) has been sentenced to death. If the death penalty is carried out and he is executed, for me personally, that would be a shame. As an individual I can’t oppose it, but instinctively my spirit says “Can’t he be pardoned? Can’t state officials show mercy?”
If you agree that the two Australian prisoners facing the death penalty should be given the chance to live ‘a life’ in prison, you can head to the Mercy Campaign website where you can sign the petition and find out more about the prisoners. This has been set up by the Melbourne law firm which took over the case pro bono in 2006. What do you think about the death penalty being imposed on these two prisoners? Let us know in the comments below.
Here is some footage from last night’s Dateline: