UK urges Indonesia to spare life of drug smuggler

Indonesian Minister of Foreign Retno Marsudi and her British counterpart Philip Hammond (L) speak during a join press conference at the foreign ministry office in Jakarta on February 4, 2015.

Just three days after a British newspaper revealed the suspension of a diplomat for allegedly having an affair with a drug convict in Bali, UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond came to Jakarta on a mission to save the life of British drug trafficker Lindsay Sandiford, who is on death row.

During his visit, Hammond met Indonesian officials including Vice President Jusuf Kalla and Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi. Apart from bilateral economic issues, the British foreign secretary raised his government's opposition to the use of the death penalty against Sandiford.

"We share the fight against international crime, including drug trafficking. But I have made it clear that the UK opposes the use of the death penalty," he told reporters after the meeting with Retno at the Foreign Ministry.

Hammond said his government would provide support for Sandiford, who was sentenced to death for smuggling 4.8 kilograms of cocaine into Bali.

However, Hammond admitted that the UK government could only help Sandiford to a certain extent. "There are specific limits to how we operate and what kind of support we can offer," he explained.

Minister Retno, for her part, said that Indonesia was consistent on its position on the death penalty. "Our position is consistent, every time there are countries who express their concerns, we explain our position."

Meanwhile, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo reiterated his call to jointly fight drug abuse on Wednesday during a national coordination meeting held by the National Narcotics Agency (BNN), which was also attended by governors, regents and mayors from across the country.

"There is an emergency situation [of rampant drug abuse in the country] that requires every-one to work together [in handling it]," Jokowi said in his opening speech.

"We need to take serious and firm action. No more tolerance regarding this matter [drug abuse]."

Denpasar District Court sentenced 56-year-old Sandiford in January 2013 to the death penalty for smuggling US$2.5 million (S$3.36 million) worth of drugs in her suitcase.

She is now on the list of drug convicts awaiting execution, with Jokowi having repeatedly vowed to reject any appeal for clemency from drug traffickers.

Another Briton, Julian Anthony Ponder, 43, was sentenced to six years in prison for receiving cocaine from Sandiford the same year.

Meanwhile, Agence France-Presse quoted on Sunday the UK Foreign Office as confirming that a British senior diplomat in Bali had been suspended after reports of an affair with a prisoner.

The Mail on Sunday newspaper reported that Alys Harahap, whose husband is Indonesian, had been suspended over a relationship with Ponder.

"We can confirm that a member of staff has been suspended pending the outcome of an investigation into these allegations, which we take extremely seriously," a spokesman for the Foreign Office in London said, declining to comment further.

Kerobokan Prison warden Sudjonggo said that he was not sure whether Ponder and the vice consul had had an affair. However, he admitted that in March last year, Harahap and Ponder had been caught kissing in front of the prison hall during a formal visit.

A prison guard reprimanded both Ponder and Harahap at that time.

"We reminded her that she was on an official visit as a representative from the consulate. Therefore, it was not appropriate for them to act like that," said Sudjonggo.