Fri, Sep 08, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Bali Nine sentence sparks angry Australian reaction

NEIGHBORS The tense relationship with Indonesia has only just recovered from a rift when Canberra granted asylum to people from Papua Province


An Indonesian court decision to sentence four young Australians to death for heroin smuggling, overturning their earlier jail terms, sparked an angry political reaction in Australia yesterday.

"Judicial murder is what the Indonesian authorities have in mind here. It is a repugnant and barbaric practice," Green Senator Bob Brown said in Canberra.

Prime Minister John Howard has said he would seek clemency for the four sentenced to death on Wednesday after they lost appeals against lengthy jail terms.

"I don't think people should entertain too many optimistic thoughts because it's difficult, but we will try hard and we will put the case against the death penalty," Howard said late on Wednesday.

Howard made an appeal for leniency from the Indonesian government yesterday but restated he was not optimistic on the outcome.

A total of six Australians, part of the so-called "Bali Nine," are now on death row on the resort island after trying to take more than 8.2kg of heroin from Bali into Australia.

A group of Australian politicians who are also members of human rights group Amnesty International said they would protest to the Indonesian government.

"We should not sit back and say this is their laws and they can do what they want," said government MP Bruce Baird.

One of the Australians sentenced to death, 20-year-old Scott Rush, said he was shocked by the ruling and pleaded for help.

"This is making my head spin. I am sitting on death, am I?" Rush told the Sydney Morning Herald from his Bali jail cell.

"At first I didn't want to appeal because of this sort of thing. I was scared and me and my parents were stressed. But everyone said no Australians would be put to death, and now I am on death row. If there is anything people can do to prevent this please make it happen because I need a second chance at life," he said.

The mother of Matthew Norman, 19, also sentenced to death, said she will move to Indonesia to support her son.

Indonesia's police chief General Sutanto defended the ruling, saying the tough sentences were expected to deter other drug traffickers.

"In Indonesia, drug abuse is rampant because punishment has been too lenient. If we are not serious about tackling the problem, drug traffickers will not be deterred," Sutanto told reporters.

Australia's sensitive relationship with its giant northern neighbor has only just recovered from a deep rift opened up when Canberra granted asylum in March to a group of boatpeople from Indonesia's restive eastern Papua Province.

Jakarta charged Canberra with supporting Papua's secessionist claims and temporarily withdrew its ambassador.

Justice Minister Chris Ellison said bilateral ties would weather any antagonism over the death sentences.

"It is a very strong relationship. I think certainly it will remain so," he said.

News of the death sentences sparked comparisons with how Jakarta has dealt with those convicted of involvement in the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

Brown said the death sentences showed a double standard in the Indonesian legal system, with Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir serving only 26 months for conspiracy in the Bali bombings.

"There's an incredible double standard in justice. It's injustice, not justice," Brown told reporters. "To look at the way the Bali bombers are being treated as against the Australians charged with drug crimes shows a system that is unfair."

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