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France Is Stepping Up Efforts to Overturn the Death Sentence Of Serge Atlaoui in Indonesia

The Frenchman, who has spent the last 10 years in jail, was removed from Indonesia’s execution list this week pending a legal appeal.
Photo par Tatan Syuflana/AP

The day after Indonesia executed eight convicted drug smugglers on the prison island of Nusa Kambangan, France is stepping up diplomatic efforts to save Serge Atlaoui, a 51-year-old Frenchman facing the firing squad for a drug conviction. According to French government spokesman Stéphane Le Foll, France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told a cabinet meeting that, "full diplomatic efforts" are being made to remove Atlaoui, a father or four, from death row.


According to reports, Atlaoui was taken off the execution list at the last minute on Saturday on grounds that a decision on his appeal before an administrative court is still pending. Speaking to French radio station RTL Wednesday, Atlaoui's wife described the uncertainty around her husband's fate as "intense psychological torture."

"Who are they executing? Innocents," Sabine Atlaoui said.

Atlaoui said that she has traveled every year to Indonesia to visit her husband over the past decade that he has been incarcerated. "My husband was removed from the list, but the attorney general immediately released a statement saying that […] as soon as the administrative appeal is over, he will be executed," she added.

Related: Indonesia Executed All But One of Nine Convicted Drug Smugglers, Sparing Filipino Woman

Atlaoui, who hails from the northeastern French town of Metz, was arrested in 2005 in a clandestine ecstasy lab in a suburb of Jakarta. A welder by trade, Atlaoui has protested his innocence, claimed he had been contracted to install heavy machinery in what he thought was an acrylics factory.

Two years later, after initially being handed a life sentence, Atlaoui was sentenced to death on drug trafficking charges by Indonesia's Supreme Court, which then rejected his appeal.

On January 29, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who has taken a tough stance on drug crime, denied Atlaoui's petition for clemency. In a March interview with Al Jazeera, Widodo defended his stance on refusing forgiveness to drug convicts, saying his country wants "to send a strong message to drug smugglers."


There was confusion for some time over whether or not Atlaoui had lost an appeal for a retrial. A notice published by the court in Jakarta on April 9 said an appeal had been refused, but on Monday, Indonesian authorities confirmed that Atlaoui's execution had been delayed, pending a decision on his appeal.

Speaking on Thursday, French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius denounced the "serious dysfunctions in the Indonesian legal system." Unlike others tried in the same case, Atlaoui was denied a request to have witnesses and experts heard in his case.

French President François Hollande also stepped up pressure on Jakarta, warning that Indonesia will face "diplomatic consequences with France and Europe" if it goes ahead with the execution.

Unfortunately for Atlaoui, aside from the threat of severed diplomatic relations, France doesn't wield much influence in Indonesia, which is 18th on the list of France's trade partners.

Australia, which has deep commercial and political ties with Indonesia, failed to halt the country's execution of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, who were killed Tuesday by a firing squad on drug smuggling charges. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abott has vowed to withdraw the nation's ambassador to Indonesia in protest over the execution.

Brazil, which has deeper relations with Indonesia than France, also failed to overturn the death sentence of Brazilian national Rodrigo Gularte, who had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Gularte was arrested in 2004 when cocaine was found in his surfing gear as he entered Indonesia.

Speaking to France Info Wednesday, Atlaoui's attorney Richard Sédillot said he remains hopeful for his client, adding that he'd noticed a general attitude shift in the media, in a country where 80 percent of citizens say they are in favor of the death penalty. Sédillot also claims that, among the president's entourage, were "people who fully understand that Serge Atlaoui is innocent, who are having second thoughts, and are questioning him [the president]."

Sédillot said that Atlaoui's supporters intend "to surmount whatever obstacles are thrown our way," and fight to the end to overturn the Frenchman's death sentence.

If Atlaoui goes before the firing squad, he will be the first Frenchman to be executed since the death penalty was abolished in France in 1981.

Follow Mélodie Bouchaud on Twitter: @meloboucho