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

Indonesia reportedly executed eight convicted drug smugglers by firing squad, unexpectedly granting a last-minute reprieve to a domestic worker from the Philippines.

by Scott Mitchell
Apr 28 2015, 5:35pm

Photo by Achmad Ibrahim/AP

Indonesia executed eight convicted drug smugglers just after midnight Wednesday local time on the prison island of Nusa Kambangan, unexpectedly granting a last-minute reprieve to Filipino woman Mary Jane Veloso, according to local media reports and Reuters.

Doubts hung over the legality of many of the convictions, including those of Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, and Veloso, a domestic worker from the Philippines, who had been the subject of an outpouring of support.

Last-minute diplomatic efforts are also ongoing to save Frenchman Serge Areski Atlaoui. In total, four Nigerians, two Australians, one Brazilian, and one Indonesian were executed, after being found guilty of drug offenses in a harsh crackdown by Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

The condemned prisoners were subjected to death by firing squad and given a choice of wearing a blindfold, which Sukumaran had already said he would forgo. They were also given the choice of sitting, kneeling, or standing in front of the shooters. Each prisoner faced a firing squad of 12, but only three of the shooters had live ammunition. The executioners were instructed to aim for the heart, but a special forces police officer was assigned to shoot the prisoner in the head if the first shots were not fatal.

Earlier on Tuesday night, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop confirmed that Australian diplomatic efforts had received no responses.

"I'm obviously very dismayed by what has gone on in recent weeks," Bishop told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "I'm obviously deeply disturbed at some of the aspects of how this has been handled."

The families of Sukumaran and Chan were left to fight through the press pack in order to enter and exit the prison during their final hours with their loved ones. A distressed Raji Sukumaran, Myuran's mother, made a final plea for her son's life.

"He is healthy and he is beautiful and he has a lot of compassion for other people," she said. "I'm asking the government please don't kill him today. Please don't hold the execution. Please don't kill my son."

Philippine President Benigno Aquino made not one but two pleas to the Indonesian authorities to spare Veloso on the back of a public campaign that saw several Filipino celebrities, including boxer Manny Pacquiao, plead for her life.

On Tuesday night, Indonesian Attorney General H.M. Prasetyo confirmed that Aquino had argued that Veloso was a victim of human trafficking, forced into her work as a drug mule.

"Now she says she's a victim of human trafficking," Prasetyo told local reporters. "I think these are just efforts to delay the execution. We have given her all legal avenues. Don't force us to change. If we're not firm, it means we're weak in the war against drugs."

It's still unclear what changed Prasetyo's mind Wednesday and prompted him to spare Veloso.

Sukumaran became an internationally exhibited artist during his time in prison. He and Chan were convicted in 2006 as ringleaders of a group of drug mules who had attempted to smuggle 8.2 kilograms heroin from Indonesia to Australia.

His mentor, artist Ben Quilty, helped Sukumaran set up an artists studio in Bali's Kerborkan prison where prisoners could learn art as part of their rehabilitation.

Quilty sent a statement on Tuesday addressed to Widodo, known locally as Jokowi. 

"You may rob their fellow inmates of the support and love that both men have offered and provided for so long, you can turn off Myu's imagination but you will never kill the memory of them," he wrote to the Indonesian president.

"Myuran will continue to translate your executioner's words into English for Mary Jane Veloso and Andrew will calm and console," he said of how he believed the men would spend their final moments. "I know that before the sound of your guns the island will hear the comforting whisper of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan."

Sukumaran requested that he be allowed to paint up until the last possible moment, and his family emerged today from the prison carrying his final works signed by all nine prisoners set to die. One was of a bleeding heart, another of the Indonesian flag dripping with blood.

Chan became a devoted Christian, studying theology and being confirmed as a pastor in January this year. On Monday, authorities allowed him to marry his fiancé, local Indonesian pastor Febyanti Herewila, in a small ceremony with his family.

"To walk out of there and say goodbye for the last time, it's torture," said his brother Andrew upon leaving the prison for the final time on Monday afternoon. "There has to be a moratorium on the death penalty."

Just a day before the executions, the pair's original lawyer, Muhammad Rifan, claimed that judges in the case solicited bribes of 130,000 Australian dollars ($104,240) in exchange for sparing the death penalty, only to have the judges to renege on the deal under political pressure.

The Indonesian judicial commission charged with looking into the matter asserted overnight on Wednesday that it carried out an investigation into the bribery claims, but it has not released the results. The head of the commission said the investigations would have no bearing on the execution. When asked about the allegations on Monday night, Widodo dismissed them with a rhetorical question.

"Such things should have been exposed years ago. Why it wasn't revealed in the past when it happened?" he responded.