Last Wednesday, two Australian drug smugglers in Indonesia were taken from their Bali prison to an island where they will be executed.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia said his country was “revolted” by their looming deaths after frantic diplomatic efforts to save them.
Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the ringleaders of the so-called “Bali Nine” drug smuggling gang, left Bali’s Kerobokan jail in two armored vehicles and were taken to the airport.
The pair, sentenced to death in 2006 for trying to smuggle heroin out of Indonesia, were woken up in the early hours and given a few minutes to get ready, said local justice ministry official Nyoman Putra Surya.
They said “thank you” before leaving, and “we handcuffed them and they were quiet” before their transfer on a chartered flight, added Surya.
About 200 police, 50 soldiers and a water cannon were stationed outside the Bali prison as the men, in their early 30s, were driven out, said an AFP reporter.
The two men were being flown to Cilacap, on Java island, and will then be transferred to Nusa Kambangan island, home to several high-security prisons. The executions take place in a jungle-skirted clearing on Nusa Kambangan.
Officials are yet to announce a date for their executions, but the transfer indicates it is imminent. Authorities must give convicts 72 hours notice before they are put to death.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has repeatedly called for Indonesia not to go ahead with the executions, said Australians were sickened by the developments, according to The Telegraph.
“We frankly are revolted by the prospect of these executions,” he said, adding that “right now millions of Australians are feeling sick in their guts”.
Australia has outlawed the death penalty.
The British newspaper The Guardian states that the two Australians are a part of a group of 11 prisoners being prepared for execution, and “the spotlight has been thrown on the use of the death penalty in the country.” Dozens more are on death row and the government has declared there will be no mercy for those convicted of drug offenses.
Britain has also outlawed the death penalty.
The Guardian spoke to a police officer who has been part of the firing squad which operates on the prison island, Nusa Kambangan. The officer is part of a wing of the Indonesian police corps known as the Mobile Brigade (“Brimob”).
His story is one that reveals Indonesia’s justice system and the conflicting emotions of those responsible for upholding the death penalty.
He says that pulling the trigger is the easy part. The worst part is the human touch, he says, the connection with those who are about to die. The executioner has to lace the prisoner’s limbs, hands and feet to a cross-shaped pole with thick rope. The intimacy haunts people, he claims.
In the darkness of the night a light will be shined onto a circle drawn over the prisoner’s heart.
The firing squad, made up of 12 Brimob officers, will be five to 10 meters away and will shoot their M-16s when given the order.
“The mental burden is heavier for the officers that are responsible for handling the prisoners rather than shooting them,” he says. “Because those officers are involved in picking them up, and tying their hands together, until they are gone.”
The brigade carries out the executions on top of its regular duties, claims The Guardian.
Five Brimob officers are assigned to each prisoner, to escort them from the isolation cells in the middle of the night and accompany them to the clearing.
One team is assigned to escort and shackle the prisoners, a second team is the firing squad.
The officer says prisoners can “decide if they want to cover their face” before they are tied up. They are tied up to make sure their heart or the position of their body does not move.
Using a thick rope known as “tali tambang” in Indonesian, the officer says he avoids speaking to the prisoners when he binds their hands behind their back and onto the poles, kneeling or standing as they wish. He treats the prisoners gently.
“I don’t make conversation with the prisoners. I treat them like they are a member of my own family,” he claims. “I say only, ‘I’m sorry, I am just doing the job.'”
He says that by the time he escorts the prisoners from their cells to the clearing “they are resigned to their fate…”
There’s a limit to the number of executions an officer can take, states The Guardian.
When asked whether shooting someone in this way takes a psychological toll, the man says, “If we do the executions once or twice it is not a problem, but if we have to do it many times we will certainly be subject to psychological problems.”