SYDNEY – Australia is pursuing a last-ditch deal with Indonesia to save two of its citizens from imminent execution on drugs charges, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Thursday, in a case that threatens to strain already fragile relations.
Myuran Sukumaran, 33, and Andrew Chan, 31, are among eight prisoners due to be executed after Indonesian President Joko Widodo rejected their clemency pleas last month.
Five foreigners were among six people executed for drug offences last month, the first executions in Indonesia since Widodo took office in October. Indonesia has since rejected Australian pleas for clemency for Chan and Sukumaran.
During an impassioned speech to parliament on Thursday, Bishop outlined a flurry of Australian diplomatic activity aimed at securing a deal and urged Indonesia to show mercy.
“We urge the Indonesian government to show the same mercy to Andrew and Myuran that it seeks for its citizens in the same situation abroad,” Bishop said. “... we must not give up hope and we will continue with our efforts to save the lives of Australian citizens,” she said.
Chan and Sukumaran were members of the so-called Bali Nine, who were found guilty of attempting to smuggle more than 8 kg (18 lb) of heroin.
They were arrested at Bali’s Denpasar airport in 2005 and their case has enormous resonance as a domestic political issue in Australia.
Bali is a popular tourist destination for Australians, who are broadly opposed to the death penalty, especially in a case involving young people who are viewed to have made a tragic youthful mistake.
The executions have the potential to reignite the kind of diplomatic tensions between the two often uneasy neighbours that has periodically complicated cooperation on regional issues, including people smuggling and intelligence.
Indonesia recalled its envoy and froze military and intelligence cooperation in 2013 after reports that Canberra had spied on top Indonesian officials, including former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s wife.
Full diplomatic cooperation was restored last May.
Bishop said last month she would not rule out recalling Australia’s envoy if the executions went ahead.
Brazil and the Netherlands recalled their ambassadors in Indonesia, and Nigeria summoned Indonesia’s ambassador in Abuja, after last month’s executions. Nationals from Malawi and Vietnam were also put to death.
Indonesia has a record of harsh penalties for drug trafficking, resuming executions in 2013 after a five-year gap.