Mercy for the Condemned?
Melanie Morrison, WEEKENDER | Fri, 07/22/2011 10:26 AM |
Beyond the headlines, a personal view of one of the Bali 9 members now waiting on death row.
The news tagline read, “Bali Nine Andrew Chan Loses His Final Appeal …” My shock must have been obvious.
“What’s wrong, mummy?” my 6-year-old daughter asked after the news came on June 17.
I explained that a young man I had met in Bali was going to be killed for doing a bad thing when he was 21.
“But why are they going to kill him?”
“Because that’s the law in some countries.”
She thought about it for a moment. “Is he still bad?”
“No, he’s helping people now.”
“Then why are they still going to kill him?”
This seemingly simple yet profound question is one that I continue to ask myself.
For months I had been telling friends and colleagues that the Indonesian justice system, which actively supports rehabilitation programs and values redemption, would recognize that Andrew Chan had transformed and his death sentence would be commuted. How could someone who has proved he can lead a good life possibly be put to death?
Chan and eight other Australians were arrested in Bali in April 2005 for their role in attempting to smuggle more than 8 kilograms of heroin from Bali to Australia.
Indonesian authorities were acting on a tip from the Australian Federal Police, which, for some inexplicable – and I would argue inexcusable – reason, coordinated the arrests in a jurisdiction where drug trafficking carries the death penalty.
Chan and accomplices Myuran Sukumaran and Scott Rush were subsequently sentenced to death. In May, Rush had his death sentence rescinded to life. However, both Chan’s and Sukumaran’s fate was sealed with one word appearing on the Indonesian Supreme Court website – “Tolak”, meaning that the last of their legal challenges had been rejected (Sukumaran’s verdict was upheld on July 7).
Last September, when Chan and Sukumaran appeared in court for the last time, I traveled to Bali with SBS TV’s Dateline presenter Mark Davis to do a report on these two little known members of the “Bali 9”. I sat next to Chan’s brother Michael on the plane. Michael was surprisingly relaxed and candid as he fielded my questions about his brother, his parents and the impact that the death sentence has had on the family.
Their parents emigrated from China to Australia in the 1970s, in search of a better life. They worked long hours as Chinese restaurant owners to provide for their two sons and two daughters. Andrew Chan was a fairly happy-go-lucky child, but growing up in Sydney’s western suburbs can be difficult. There are drugs and gangs and, as Michael said, “Andrew lost his way for a while”.
It was this wayward life that landed Chan in Kerobokan Prison, where I first met him in the muggy mid-morning heat of the visitor’s yard. He hardly seemed like the criminal “ringleader” that initial media reports might have had you believe. He was lively and jovial as he joked with family and friends. Some friends, among them Ann and Alan, travel regularly from Australia to spend time with him.
“If anyone deserves to live, it’s Andrew,” Ann told me.
Several former Kerobokan Prison inmates also visit Chan when they can.
“He changed my life,” said Bonnie, a young Indonesian who spent six months in the prison. “He has so much positive energy.”
For Chan, imprisonment turned out to be an unusual blessing because of the chance it gave him to reevaluate his life. He attributes much of his transformation to his Christian faith, which he has embraced since being on death row.
“Now I also realize that God the Almighty teaches that those who have sinned in the past can improve themselves if they are prepared to take responsibility for their actions,” he said during his final court plea.
“If I am pardoned, after I have served my sentence I hope that one day I will be able to have my own family and work as a pastor or as a counselor so I can give guidance to young people so that they don’t make mistakes like the ones that I have made.”
Andrew Chan has certainly made his mark on prison life. Along with Sukumaran, he has set up English language and computer courses, art classes and job mentoring schemes. Kerobokan Prison Governor Bapak Siswanto has praised these efforts and, in an unprecedented show of support, even testified on behalf of the two men. He told the judges in Denpasar’s District Court that the pair had reformed and were helping with the rehabilitation of other prisoners. He asked that these young Australians be given a second chance at life.
I left Bali after the court proceedings, believing that the judges in Jakarta would surely overturn their death sentences and let these men live. I was wrong.
On June 17, Chan’s verdict was posted on the Supreme Court website. Michael Chan was just sitting down to dinner at his parents’ home in Sydney when he received a call from a journalist telling him that the final appeal had been rejected.
“My heart stopped for a beat. It took a while for it to sink in. Then I thought, how am I going to tell mum and dad?”
His parents sat in silence as he told them the news. The death sentence has taken a terrible toll on Chan’s parents. His father suffers from a multitude of illnesses and his mother has had years of sleepless nights and unbearable nightmares.
The tragic reality of capital punishment is that it is the family members – not guilty of any crime – who suffer the most. This heavy burden is not lost on Andrew Chan. Michael told me that his brother had realized just how much he had hurt his mother. “It really hit him. He is more concerned about her than anything.”
After a series of devastating court rulings, Chan is holding on to one final hope: a plea for clemency from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
“He’s not letting it get him down,” Michael assures me. “He’s still his normal positive self. While there is hope, he’ll keep hoping.”
The writer works as a producer/researcher for Dateline, on Australia’s SBS TV. The views contained in this article are her own.