It’s not often that I voice my political opinion especially among friends and family, as often issues can be too divisive, but every so often something will come up that I feel very strongly about. Usually something happens that is unjust and I decide to let my voice be heard regardless of whether or not my opinion will make me unpopular.
In this instance it’s the case of the two Australian’s Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, who are awaiting death by firing squad in Indonesia. Sukumaran and Chan were arrested along with seven other young Australian’s a decade ago in Bali for attempting to traffic over 8kg of heroin. The group were infamously dubbed the “Bali Nine” by the media.
Sukumaran and Chan then aged only 21 and 23 years were identified as the group’s ring leaders and were sentenced to death. It is now understood that they were mules operating under organized criminals in Australia.
Looking back on the footage of when they were first arrested I see two reckless and angry young men for whom I initially felt little sympathy. They seem a world away from the men that they have become. In the ten years since their arrest they have each turned their lives around in dramatic fashion. Chan turned to Christianity and Sukumaran to art. Collectively they have shunned further association with drugs, organized classes and workshops for fellow inmates and according to their prison warden, are model inmates. In fact it was Sukumaran’s art that first made me take notice. As a creative person I related to him the most. I was amazed at not only the quality of his artwork but at how prolific he was, filling a make shift studio with paintings that show an unexpected delicate insight into the man and his experiences in prison. As an artist you are in touch with your emotions and gentler characteristics not normally associated with hardened criminals. His paintings symbolized a significant change. I can understand why acclaimed artist Ben Quilty was so moved upon visiting Sukumaran, which motivated him to started the ‘I Stand for Mercy’ campaign and why the creative community have given their collective support.
It’s clear that time spent in a foreign prison under the shadow of a death and the pain that they have inflicted upon their families has seen these men mature, find their true paths in life and try to make up for their past choices. Significantly, their actions and new attitudes also highlight the success of the rehabilitation program in place within their Indonesian prison. So with this in mind it seems unreal to me that having achieved so much on a personal level and being shining examples of successful rehabilitation they are facing death. Sadly it is a pre-determined political agenda that has seen them fast tracked to the firing squad. Indonesia’s President Widodo has adopted a strict “No Mercy” agenda for drug traffickers, and is only too keen to have his agenda in the global spotlight. However, such bull headed determination has also placed a focus on Indonesia’s use of the death penalty, their human rights and the apparent inequalities in their legal system.
Sukumaran and Chan are not asking to be released from prison. They are asking for clemency and for a chance to continue to redeem their lives. Supporting them is not supporting drug trafficking or crime. They are already paying for their actions. It is to recognise that rehabilitation is possible; that the death penalty has no place in a modern, progressive world and that compassion is a trait of the strong not the weak. It is for these reasons that I stand for mercy and I hope that you will too.