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The Unforgiven

Reprieve of Death Sentence for 3 of 'Bali Nine' Meets with Mixed Reviews from Those Involved in Indonesia's War on Drugs

(3/16/2008) It is estimated that no fewer than 1.1 million Indonesian schoolchildren actively use narcotics. This fact was underlined last week by Hamdani, the Chairman of the North Sumatra Anti-Narcotics Movement (GRANAT), who, in recent comments to the press, suggested that narcotics abuse should be included as a formal subject of study in Indonesian high schools. Hamdani bemoaned the rising rate of drug abuse in Indonesian society and his profound disappointment that 3 of the “Bali Nine” had their death sentences reduced to life-in-prison by the Supreme Court on March 7, 2008. [See: A Gift of Life for Three of the Bali Nine]

The Indonesian Supreme Court accepted the appeal of Tach Duc Thanh Nguyen, Si Yi Chen, and Matthew James Norman – reducing the death sentence for the three who were convicted for their role in attempting to smuggle 8.2 kilograms of heroin from Bali to Australia.

The remaining six members of the "Bali Nine" are Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukumaran, Michael Czugaj, Renae Lawrence, Scott Rush, and Martin Stephens. Czugaj, Rush, Stephens and Lawrence were arrested at Bali’s Ngurah Rai Airport with the drugs taped to their bodies while trying to board a flight to Australia. Andre Chan was arrested on a separate flight. While Nguyen, Sukumaran, Chen and Norman were subsequently apprehended at the Hotel Melasti in Kuta.

Among those arrested at the airport, only Chan was arrested with no narcotics on his person. Those arrested at the Kuta hotel were found with 350 grams of heroin in their possession and assorted paraphernalia that police claimed linked them to the smuggling effort.

The "Bali Nine" have had a hair-raising and tumultuous ride through the criminal justice season with numerous appeals and changes in sentence. In February 2006, seven of the nine received life sentences, while Sukumaran and Chan – seen as masterminds behind he crime, were sentenced to death.

The nine appealed their sentence. Renae Lawrence, the only woman in the group, accepted an appeals court's reduction of her sentence to 20 years.

The remaining 8 convicts, however, persisted in the precarious appeal process, suffering the dire consequences of that decision when the court increased from only 2 to 6 the number facing the death penalty. That decision on September 6, 2006, put Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukumaran, Scott Rush, Tach Duc Nguyen, Si Yi Chen, and Matthew Norman all on death row. Meanwhile, Michael Czugai and Martin Stephens remained under a sentence of life imprisonment.

The latest appeal decision had the death sentences for Duc Thanh Nguyen, Si Yi Chen, and Matthew James Norman reduced to life. The three men still sitting on death row – Chan, Sukumaran and Rush have yet to file an appeal of their sentence.

One Indonesian national daily Kontras saluted the decision of the panel of judges, seeing the sentence reduction as part of a larger imperative to abolish capital punishment in Indonesia. Citing overall weaknesses in the how law is administered in Indonesia, Kontras also suggested that all those awaiting execution, including terrorists, should similarly be exempted from their fate.

Many observers were quoted in the Indonesian press as opining that the latest appeal’s court decision was the result of lobbying by the newly elected Australian government. Usman of Kontras said quiet efforts by the Australians to urge mercy for their citizens was entirely appropriate given Australia's opposition to capital punishment and similar efforts by Indonesian authorities seeking leniency for convicted Indonesians in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.

Less enthusiastic over the Supreme Courts latest decision was the Head of the National Anti-Narcotics Bureau (BNN), Made Mangku Pastika who protested the three's escape from the death penalty. Pastika, who is also a candidate for Bali's governorship, feels that the death penalty is a proper response, saying "every day, 40 people die (in Indonesia) due to narcotics."

BNN estimates that 1.1 million student are involved in illicit drugs that, as a whole, affect the lives of 3.2 million Indonesians. In the eyes of law enforcement officials charged with battling drugs in Indonesia those numbers shield a much more widespread problem that claims the lives of 14,600 people every year and destroys the futures of countless others.

Given the lethal nature of heroin, the large amount involved in the crime of the "Bali Nine" and the frightening dimensions of the current drug crisis in Indonesia – there are many in Indonesia deeply disappointed that 3 of the 9 have seemingly escaped a final date before a Bali firing squad.