Insight and foresight from the global frontlines

Australia recalls ambassador after Indonesia executes eight convicts

Indonesian President Joko Widodo agreed to stay the execution of a Filipina, but eight others, mostly foreigners, were executed by firing squad in the early hours of Wednesday. 

Lukas Coch/AAP Image via AP
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott pauses as he speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, Wednesday, April 29, 2015. Abbott announced that Australia will withdraw its ambassador from Jakarta in response to the executions of two Australians, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan.

A daily roundup of terrorism and security issues.

Indonesia's late-night execution of eight convicted drug traffickers has drawn international condemnation and strained bilateral relations, with neighboring Australia making the rare decision to recall its ambassador.

Seven of the eight executed early Wednesday local time were foreigners, including two Australians, one Brazilian, and four Nigerians. A ninth prisoner from the Philippines was granted a last-minute stay while her case is further investigated.

Brazil recalled its ambassador to Indonesia after another national was executed on drug charges in January. As a result, Brasilia didn’t allow Indonesia's new ambassador to take part in a credentials ceremony this year, and President Dilma Rousseff said the latest execution "marks a serious event in the relations between the two countries."

For Australia, it’s rare to recall an ambassador, and it has never been done before over a prisoner execution, reports Reuters. 

"We respect Indonesia's sovereignty but we do deplore what's been done and this cannot be simply business as usual," Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters. "I want to stress that this is a very important relationship between Australia and Indonesia but it has suffered as a result of what's been done over the last few hours.”

The two executed Australians had been in prison for 10 years on charges of running a heroin-trafficking ring known as the Bali Nine. Supporters said the two men had repented and reformed during their incarceration. Andrew Chan became a Christian pastor and married an Indonesian woman, while Myuran Sukumaran became an accomplished artist, teaching fellow inmates.

Australia enjoys a trade surplus with Indonesia and the nations have worked together to fight Islamic extremism in Southeast Asia since scores of Australians were killed in a terrorist bombing in Bali in 2002, reports Voice of America. Thus far, Australia hasn’t mentioned ending aid programs or imposing economic sanctions over Wednesday's execution. 

Jakarta has defended its actions. The executions were necessary to send a message to would-be traffickers, said Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo: “Do not try to smuggle drugs in Indonesia, because we will be harsh and firm against drug-related crimes.”

Mr. Prasetyo added, “I would like to say that an execution is not a pleasant thing…. We are not making enemies of countries from where those executed came. What we are fighting against is drug-related crimes." 

Vice President Jusuf Kalla told reporters that he predicts the negative diplomatic response will last “just for a while, a month or two, to signify protest.”

Many view Indonesia’s decision to move forward with the executions as a domestic political move in a nation where many approve of the death penalty and where President Joko Widodo has been struggling to assert his authority, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The decision to proceed with the executions “represents for most Indonesians a return to the regular order under a president who is unafraid to enforce Indonesian laws, even when placed under intense pressure to offer foreigners special dispensation,” Aaron Connelly of the Sydney-based Lowy Institute for International Policy wrote this week. “To most Indonesians, this is reform.”

The international community has criticized what it views as a lack of due process and an exaggeration of drug use in Indonesia as an excuse for the executions, the BBC reports.

"Indonesia appeals for clemency when its own nationals face execution in other countries, so it is incomprehensible why it absolutely refuses to grant clemency for lesser crimes on its own territory," said Rupert Colville, the United Nations human rights spokesman in Geneva.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.