Indonesia executions: Australia withdraws ambassador

Abbott says relationship between the two countries cannot be “business as usual”

Australia recalls its ambassador to Indonesia in protest against the execution of two Australian drug smugglers. Video: Reuters

 

Australia will withdraw its ambassador from Indonesia in protest at the execution of two of its citizens for drug smuggling.

Prime minister Tony Abbott said the executions of Myuran Sukumaran (33) and Andrew Chan (31) were “both cruel and unnecessary”.

Sukumaran and Chan, who were arrested for attempting to smuggle heroin out of Bali in 2005, were killed by firing squad along with three Nigerians, one Brazilian, a Ghanaian and an Indonesian. A Filipino due to be executed was given a reprieve.

Brazil said the execution of one of its citizens “marks a serious event in the relations between the two countries”.

The Indonesian government refused to confirm the executions, but said a Philippine woman had been granted a reprieve.

After Indonesia executed six people in January for drug trafficking, Brazil and the Netherlands recalled their ambassadors in protest the death of their citizens. The execution of the second Brazilian will have serious implications on bilateral relations and may impact commercial ties, President Dilma Rousseff said in a statement.

Filipino Mary Jane Veloso was spared after a person who allegedly recruited her as a courier went to the police in the Philippines on Tuesday.

President Benigno Aquino had spoken with Indonesian president Joko Widodo on Monday in Malaysia - where the two attended a regional summit - to call for leniency, saying Veloso had been duped into being an unwitting carrier of drugs.

“We’re thankful that she’s spared from execution,” Veloso‘s mother Celia said on Manila-based GMA TV. “God has mercy.”

Mr Aquino is “relieved and thankful like every one of us,” his communications secretary Sonny Coloma said on the ABS-CBN news channel. He is also grateful to the Indonesian government for giving Veloso “a new lease on life,” Mr Coloma said.

Australia made more than 50 appeals for clemency and Mr Abbott told reporters on Wednesday the men’s deaths marked “a dark moment in the relationship” with Indonesia.

The two countries have had prior episodes of friction that threatened to overshadow economic and strategic ties. Australia has been seeking to finalise a free-trade pact with Indonesia and the two cooperate on anti-terrorism measures and efforts to prevent people smugglers bringing asylum seekers to Australia by boat.

“Australia‘s making a point but it can‘t afford to escalate this further, because it doesn‘t have any leverage over Indonesia and the relationship is already brittle,” said John Blaxland, a senior fellow at the Australian National University‘s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre in Canberra.

“Abbott can‘t afford to let this moment become a defining one” with the nation’s northern neighbour, he said.

Mr Widodo, known in Indonesia as Jokowi, has allowed the death penalty for drug crimes after a pause under the previous government, and repeatedly said he wouldn‘t show mercy for smugglers.

The government said in December it would put to death 64 convicts, including foreigners. “We are not making enemies of those countries whose nationals were executed last night, but we are making an enemy of, and fighting, drug crimes,” attorney general Prasetyo told reporters on Wednesday.

“This will be a warning. Those who want to carry out drug crimes will think about doing so 1,000 times because Indonesia will take a strong stand.”

Australian trade minister Andrew Robb, who is seeking to finalise the trade agreement with Indonesia, shelved a delegation to Jakarta in the build-up to the executions. Even so, Mr Abbott said on Wednesday he regarded himself as a “friend” of Indonesia.

“My hope is that this presidency is a successful one and while this is a dark moment in the relationship, I am confident that the relationship will be restored for the great benefit of both our countries,“ he said.

“It’s important that the relationship between the Australian government and the Indonesian government continues.”

Australia is a major importer of Indonesia’s petroleum while Indonesia purchases its agricultural products including wheat and livestock.

Prison Rehabilitation

Australia had argued that Sukumaran and Chan showed deep remorse for their actions and had been actively involved in helping others during their time in jail.

The men were part of a group known as the Bali Nine caught carrying 8 kilograms (17 pounds) of heroin at Bali airport in 2005. Sukumaran turned to painting after his imprisonment and in February was awarded an associate degree in fine arts from Australia‘s Curtin University, according to his friend, celebrated war artist Ben Quilty.

Chan became an ordained Christian minister, with both men involved in rehabilitation programs for fellow prisoners. Ministerial ties between Indonesia and Australia have been suspended and will remain that way “for a period,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Canberra Wednesday.

“We do deplore what‘s been done and this cannot be simply business as usual,” Mr Abbott said.

Previous Disputes

Ties between the nations were damaged in 2013 after the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported that documents leaked by US whistle blower Edward Snowden showed Australia tapped the phone of then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Indonesia severed defence and people-smuggling pacts and the spat threatened to disrupt trade including cattle shipments from Australia.

Last August the countries agreed to resume intelligence sharing and announced a code of conduct on military cooperation.

Relations previously soured during Mr Sukarno’s rule in the 1960s, and after Australian journalists were killed in the 1970s in what is now East Timor. Indonesia reacted angrily in 1999 when Australia led international military support to restore order in East Timor after it voted for independence from Indonesia.

“It seems that for Jokowi, a popular president but one who lacks outright majority political support, the execution of the death row inmates will help him retain the public‘s faith as many of his election promises have yet to materialise,” the Jakarta Post newspaper, which supported Mr Jokowi’s election last year, said in an editorial on Wednesday.

Agencies