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For and Against: The Bali Nine Debate

Below are some of the main arguments for and against the application of the death penalty in the recent “Bali Nine” drug trafficking case.

The Argument For the Death Penalty

Drug trafficking is a serious problem in Indonesia. Currently, 4.5 million Indonesians need to be rehabilitated due to illicit or illegal drug use, and 40 to 50 young people die each day from the same cause. In Indonesia, drug trafficking is illegal and is punishable by the death penalty. Sukumaran and Chan knew of this law but chose to take their chances, thus it is the government’s responsibility to deal with their case in whichever way it chooses. If the government did not follow through with their set laws and spared the lives of the offenders, what kind of message does it send? If Indonesia had given in to the pressure from the Australian government to stop the execution of the Australian prisoners, will future offenders expect their governments to pardon them for their crimes? People need be aware that drug trafficking is not tolerated under any circumstance in Indonesia and capital punishment is the ultimate warning for anyone wanting to offend. This instigates fear within the drug trade, consequently lowering the number of incidents.

The decision to execute the prisoners was not a rash or sudden one. The Australian offenders were imprisoned for four years prior to being put on death row. During this period, the government had undergone many discussions concerning their sentence. Their final decision was carefully thought out and they implemented what they felt was best for their country; we need to respect that. It is all very well for those in Australia, who live in a society free from the horrific problems of drug trafficking that Indonesia faces, to shun their decision calling it inhumane and cruel. The government had every right to execute these offenders, given their circumstances. They did it for what they believed would benefit their nation and acted in the public’s interest, which is exactly what they should have done.

The notion of being anti–capital punishment is a very Western idea, and this is shown by the fact that the majority of nations enforcing the death penalty are Eastern countries. In many of these countries, this type of punishment is seen as fair; people must pay the ultimate price when they have committed an unspeakable crime.

So although it may be the general consensus in Western nations like Australia that the death penalty is immoral and unethical, we need to recognise that the question of morality is highly subjective. We cannot push our beliefs onto others. There is no black or white answer as to whether something is ethical or not and if the Indonesian government believed what they did was in the name of justice and for the greater good of their nation, then their decision is justified.

The Argument Against the Death Penalty

On the 29th of April, 8 human beings were put to death. No mercy, no compassion, no humanity. To put it simply, a murder at the hands of the State.

Over a decade ago, Myuran Sukamaran and Andrew Chan were two among nine convicted of drug smuggling more than eight kilograms of heroin out of Indonesia. An act that catapulted the next ten years of their lives into gruelling uncertainty. While the other members of the “Bali Nine” received prison terms, Australian citizens Sukumaran and Chan were sentenced to death. The ringleaders made multiple pleas for clemency and reduced sentences, but to no avail, with all attempts denied by Indonesian courts. Ten years post their arrest, on the 26th of April, nine inmates, along with Sukumaran and Chan, were given 72-hour execution notices, intensifying last-ditch efforts to win reprieves. Three days later, 8 were killed by means of a firing squad; the ninth prisoner, Mary Jane Veloso, was released.

Now I am not condoning the act of drug smuggling. In fact, I strongly oppose any criminal act which occurs without consequence. The two men definitely required years of imprisonment, perhaps even a life sentence without parole, but to allow for their crime to result in the death penalty was not only ‘cruel and unnecessary’ as Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott put it, but a consequence which has by no means solved the issue of drug trafficking. If anything, Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s decision has spurred mass public outcry, with the inmate’s families outraged at the sad lack of compromise.

Over the years, both men proved themselves to be “well and truly reformed characters”, with Chan taking it upon himself to run Bible study classes in Bali’s Kerobokan jail, while also featuring in a documentary educating students about the dangers of taking drugs. Sukumaran found solace in art and began philosophy and painting classes within the confinements of the prison, showing genuine remorse in an interview: “I can honestly say I am now a different person.” Even in their last hours, their final bit of dignity was denied when the two were refused access to their Christian advisors.

In this case, as with many more, the death penalty has reaped no benefits. There is no conclusive evidence that the death penalty has any real value. One thing is for certain, now that Chan and Sukumaran have been executed, other drug offenders will be deterred from rehabilitation, their hope and enthusiasm to reform dampened by these horrific chains of events.

This case is a reflection of the sheer lack of compassion on the part of the Indonesian government. The “abuse of State power and regressive thinking” has resulted in calculated and controlled murder, a crime in itself.

“For” argument written by Helen Wu. “Against” argument written by Arya Harilal. Edited by: Saffron Huang

NB: These arguments do not necessarily reflect the author’s personal opinions.

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