Bali delays not from death row diplomacy
The announced delay in transferring Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran to the execution ground on Nusakambangan Island this week gave us some hope that Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s government might be turned from its declared policy of executing all drug convicts on death row.
If so, it has not been all Australia’s doing. The Jakarta lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis found sufficient embarrassing signs of interference in the original trial of the Bali Nine, as well as Widodo’s lack of consideration of individual appeals, to argue for further review. The French, Philippine and other governments weighed in on behalf of their nationals among the 11 convicts slated for the next round of executions.
However, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and her Labor shadow Tanya Plibersek deserve praise for leadership of the parliamentary plea for clemency. Probably the most effective part of the message has been to point out Indonesia is seeking clemency for its 360 nationals sentenced to death in other countries, 230 of them for drug offences, while refusing any consideration of it for the convicts in its own system.
The main wobbles came when Bishop raised the possibility of a tourism boycott of Bali, and then last Sunday when Tony Abbott declared that if the executions went ahead “we will certainly be finding ways to make our displeasure felt”. He was at it again on Wednesday, suggesting the $1 billion aid for the Aceh tsunami disaster created an obligation for Indonesia in this case. Bishop had to rush out a statement this was not a threat to cut Australia’s $605 million a year aid program for Indonesia, but the predictable reaction in Jakarta was immediate. “No one responds well to threats,” said its foreign ministry spokesman. Is Abbott still impervious to advice?
What can we do anyway that won’t hurt our own national interests?
Even the futile gesture of withdrawing our ambassador is not currently available. The new ambassador-designate, Paul Grigson, has arrived in Jakarta but is yet to get an appointment with Widodo to present his credentials. So officially he’s not there to be withdrawn.
Widodo’s aura as a man of the people incorruptible by politics is meanwhile taking a battering as the brawl over appointment of a new national police chief turns into a fight for survival by the much-respected Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK.
Budi Gunawan, the unusually wealthy police general put forward by Widodo as sole candidate for the top police job last month, on Monday managed to get a middle-ranking judge to declare invalid his naming by the KPK as a graft suspect. To his supporters, such as former president Megawati Sukarnoputri and her obedient members of parliament, this cleared the way for Budi to take up the position.
But on Wednesday Widodo put forward another police general, Badrodin Haiti, for the job. Whether this ends the row or escalates into a bigger battle with parliament, even an impeachment move, remains to be seen.
And the president has so far been unable to stop Budi’s friends in the police pursuing a vendetta against the KPK. On Tuesday they announced they would charge the KPK chairman, Abraham Samad, for allegedly helping a convict get a reduced sentence in return for assistance in the selection of Widodo’s running mate in last year’s election. At the time Samad’s name was never mentioned as a possible vice-president.
Provincial police have also charged Samad with forging documents to help someone get a passport in 2007. Samad’s deputy has been charged for allegedly compelling a witness to commit perjury during an election dispute hearing in 2010, and the two other active KPK commissioners are under police investigation for equally dubious offences committed many years ago. Once charged, the commissioners have to stand aside from the KPK. The police are also thinking of charging 21 of the KPK’s investigators for illegal firearm possession.
Thus they hope to decapitate and gut the KPK.
The KPK reports directly to the president, and is probably the most powerful weapon Widodo possesses in his political armoury against both opposition parties and the Megawati cronies on his own side. He has appointed respected figures as replacements for Samad and his deputy. But if the police do succeed in destroying the KPK, Widodo’s presidency will be discredited less than four months into his five-year term.
Papuan activists and human rights groups are also querying Widodo’s sincerity in his campaign proposal last year to lift the tight restrictions on access to Papua by foreign journalists and non-government organisations.
Permits for reporting trips are doled out sparingly by a committee of security and foreign policy officials in Jakarta. Two French journalists who entered Papua without this permission last year were locked up for two-and-a-half months before being deported. A Papuan man who helped them, Areki Wanimbo, is still in custody. Police initially tried to charge him with seeking ammunition from the French reporters but couldn’t produce any evidence. Now they are charging him with sedition, for co-signing a letter asking for donations to help Papuan delegates attend a pro-independence conference in Vanuatu. Such charges can bring sentences up to life imprisonment for Papuans, with 60 currently in jail for sedition.
Behind the official screen, security forces still have impunity for violence against Papuans, it seems. On a Christmas visit to Papua, Widodo promised a thorough and impartial inquiry into a shooting in the Paniai region last year, in which security forces opened fire on local people protesting at dangerous driving by military vehicles. They killed five and injured 17, including some children. Nothing has since been heard about an investigation.
Widodo is no more likely than any other Jakarta politician to entertain the idea of Papuan independence. But his wife is the daughter of a teacher sent by Sukarno into the region after the Dutch were forced out in 1963, and her name, Iriana, derives from West Irian, the name Sukarno concocted for the new province. Belatedly giving substance to the idealism of his father-in-law would be a fine legacy for Widodo.
The world and the region are getting impatient with Indonesian excuses about Papua. Earlier this month the Papua New Guinea prime minister, Peter O’Neill, abandoned his country’s usual circumspection. “Sometimes we forgot our family, our brothers and sisters, especially those in West Papua,” he told a conference in Port Moresby. “I think as a country the time has come for us to speak about oppression of our people. Pictures of brutality of our people appear daily on social media and yet we take no notice. We have the moral obligation to speak for those who are not allowed to talk. We must be the eyes for those who are blindfolded.”
Strange things are being uncovered in Sri Lanka, it seems, after voters kicked out Mahinda Rajapaksa in January’s presidential election.
The Abbott government bent over backwards in helping Rajapaksa fend off sanctions for human rights violations in order to get co-operation not only in “stopping the boats” but turning them back. Last week the police hauled in the former president’s brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who had been defence secretary in his government, to ask about discrepancies in the inventory of weapons held by paramilitary organisations under Gotabhaya’s authority.
According to Colombo press reports, the police believe container loads of automatic assault rifles have secretly been shipped out to end up in the hands of the Islamic State, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, Somali pirates and other outlaw groups, with sale proceeds ending up in accounts held by a crony politician. What wonderful friends we made in the struggle for border security.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 21, 2015 as "Bali delays not from death row diplomacy". Subscribe here.