Families visit Australians on Indonesian death row

Families visit Australians on Indonesian death row
Family members of Australian death row prisoners Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran leave their boat after visiting the two prisoners in Nusakambangan prison island, off Central Java on March 9, 2015.

CILACAP, Indonesia - Relatives of two Australian drug smugglers visited them Monday for the first time on an Indonesian prison island where they will be put to death, as their prime minister urged Jakarta to rethink the planned executions.

Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, the ringleaders of the so-called "Bali Nine" drug trafficking gang, were sentenced to death in 2006 for trying to smuggle heroin out of Indonesia.

They recently lost their appeals for presidential clemency, typically the final chance to avoid the firing squad, and are expected to be executed soon with other foreign drug convicts.

The men, in their early 30s, were moved last week from their jail on Bali to Nusakambangan prison island off Java, where the executions will take place.

Australia has mounted a sustained diplomatic campaign to stop the executions going ahead, but Indonesian President Joko Widodo has refused to change course.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott issued a fresh appeal Monday, saying: "We respect Indonesia's sovereignty, of course, we respect Indonesia's system, of course.

"But we think it's right and proper that Indonesia should look to its own long-term best interests and its own long-term best values." Earlier Monday, the men's relatives arrived at Cilacap, the port town on Java that is the gateway to Nusakambangan, as they headed to see them.

"We're fairly excited to go see Andy today," Andrew's brother Michael told reporters.

"It's been a few days. We're just looking forward to see him when we get over there, giving him a hug." Sukumaran's brother Chinthu said he and his mother Raji and sister Brintha "have been waiting, counting down the days".

"We've been told he's doing well, so we just want to see him for ourselves, just to make sure, and let him know that we love him." The families, escorted by consular officials, spent around four hours on the island before returning to Cilacap. They left the port in three vehicles, passing waiting journalists without stopping to speak.

They will next be able to visit the prison again on Wednesday.

'Rehabilitated and reformed'

Foreign drug convicts from France, Brazil, the Philippines, Nigeria and Ghana also recently lost their appeals for presidential clemency, and are expected to be executed at the same time as the Australians on Nusakambangan.

The Australians, a French convict, Serge Atlaoui, and a Filipina, Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso, are all mounting legal challenges to their sentences, although Indonesian officials insist an appeal for presidential clemency is a death row convict's final chance to avoid execution.

A lawyer for Chan and Sukumaran said at the weekend that a court will on Thursday hear the latest legal appeal by the pair.

They had sought to challenge Widodo's decision to reject their pleas for clemency - but a Jakarta court last month dismissed that bid. Their lawyers have now lodged an appeal against that decision.

Widodo, who took office in October, has been a vocal supporter of the death penalty for drug convicts, saying that Indonesia is facing an "emergency" due to rising narcotics use.

He said in an interview broadcast at the weekend that he might be open to abolishing capital punishment, but only in the future and if the public were in favour.

The president has refused to change course despite appeals from Australia, France and Brazil.

In his comments Monday, Abbott also said that Chan and Sukumaran had been "thoroughly rehabilitated and reformed" during a decade behind bars.

He added that it had not been possible to arrange another conversation with Widodo about the looming executions, as he wanted, but Canberra would continue trying.

As well as Australia, France and Brazil have been piling diplomatic pressure on Jakarta, with Paris summoning the Indonesian ambassador to protest and the Brazilian president refusing to accept the credentials of Jakarta's new envoy.

Jakarta executed six drug convicts, including five foreigners, in January, sparking a diplomatic storm as Brazil and the Netherlands - whose citizens were among those put to death - recalled their ambassadors.

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