Indonesia executes foreign drug convicts, defying global anger

Pinay mother spared at 11th hour

By Nick Perry

Migrant rights activists raise march with banners and placards in Manila on Tuesday urging the Philippine government to save Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipino migrant facing execution in Indonesia for drug charges. Indonesia's Supreme Court upheld its ruling and ordered her execution.(MNS Photo)

Migrant rights activists raise march with banners and placards in Manila on Tuesday urging the Philippine government to save Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipino migrant facing execution in Indonesia for drug charges. Indonesia’s Supreme Court upheld its ruling and ordered her execution.(MNS Photo)

Cilacap, Indonesia (AFP) Tuesday 4/28/2015 – Indonesia executed seven foreign drug convicts including two Australians by firing squad Wednesday, causing Canberra to withdraw its ambassador over the “cruel” punishment.

Authorities put the seven plus a local man to death after midnight (1700 GMT Tuesday) on the high-security prison island of Nusakambangan in central Indonesia, but a Filipina was spared at the 11th hour.

Mary Jane Veloso was spared after someone suspected of recruiting her and tricking her into carrying drugs to Indonesia turned herself in to authorities in the Philippines, MetroTV and the Jakarta Post reported in Indonesia.

The Philippine Foreign Affairs Department confirmed the reprieve. The mother of a Filipina drug convict reprieved at the 11th hour after facing execution in Indonesia told Philippine radio Wednesday: “Miracles do come true.”

“We are relieved that the execution of Mary Jane Veloso was not carried out tonight,” said spokesman Charles Jose.

“The Lord has answered our prayers.”

Seven other foreigners and one local man were executed early Wednesday for drug offences on a prison island after Indonesia defied international criticism and heartrending pleas from relatives.

“We are so happy, I can’t believe it. I can’t believe my child will live,” Mary Jane’s mother Celia Veloso told Philippine radio station DZMM.

“We had no more hope. My (other) children were already in the island waiting to pick up her body,” she told the radio station in an interview from Indonesia.

“We are all so happy. Her (Mary Jane’s) kids were all awake, yelling ‘Yes, yes, mama will live!’”

“I will tell her (Mary Jane Veloso) it is true what she said, if God wants you to live, as long as there is a minute left, he will save you.”

“Miracles do come true.”

Born to a poor family in the Philippines, Veloso, 30, is a single mother of two boys aged six and 12.

She insists she went to Indonesia for a job as a maid and was duped by an international drug syndicate.

She was arrested in 2009 with 2.6 kilograms (5.7 pounds) of heroin sewn into the lining of her suitcase.

Veloso says she was first offered a job by a friend in Malaysia, but upon her arrival was told the work was actually in Indonesia so she immediately flew there. She claims the heroin was hidden in her suitcase in Malaysia.

Her case has attracted huge attention in the Philippines, with near daily rallies of support and world boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao pleading for her life to be spared.

Mary Jane’s mother, two children and two sisters had all gone to Indonesia to meet her before her expected execution.

On the street outside the Indonesian embassy in Manila, where a group of activists had been staging a vigil for Veloso, people cheered and hugged each other as news of the reprieve was announced.

Relatives in the family’s home town of Cabanatuan also burst out cheering, radio reports said.

“We respect Indonesia’s sovereignty but we do deplore what’s been done and this cannot be simply business as usual,” said Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

“For that reason, once all the courtesies have been extended to the Chan and Sukumaran families our ambassador will be withdrawn for consultations.”

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, ringleaders of the so-called “Bali Nine” heroin-trafficking gang, were described as reformed men after years in prison by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who joined Abbott at a press conference in Canberra.

Australia had mounted a sustained campaign to save its citizens, who have been on death row for almost a decade, with the prime minister repeatedly appealing for them to be spared.

Australia has never recalled an ambassador over a drug execution before, but the punishments were “both cruel and unnecessary”, Abbott said, necessitating the “unprecedented” move to bring back Ambassador Paul Grigson.

In a statement, the families said their sons did “all they could to make amends, helping many others” in the years since their arrests, with Sukumaran teaching fellow inmates English and art, and Chan ordained as a minister in February.

“They asked for mercy, but there was none. They were immensely grateful for all the support they received. We too, will be forever grateful.”

The execution of the Brazilian, Rodrigo Gularte, has generated much criticism in his homeland, with his family saying he should not have faced the firing squad because he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Gularte’s cousin was observed leaving the port crying, accompanied by a religious counsellor.

The Brazilian government expressed its “deep dismay” at his execution and interim foreign minister Sergio Franca Danese said Brazil was “evaluating” its relationship with Indonesia after its repeated appeals for clemency were ignored.

France said it “reiterates its opposition to the death sentence in all cases and all circumstances”.

A Frenchman was originally among the group to be executed but he was granted a temporary reprieve after authorities agreed to allow an outstanding legal appeal to run its course.

‘Utterly reprehensible’

In Indonesian executions, convicts are led to clearings just after midnight, tied to posts and then given the option of kneeling, standing or sitting before being executed by 12-man firing squads.

President Joko Widodo has been a vocal supporter of the death penalty for drug traffickers, claiming Indonesia is facing an emergency due to rising narcotics use.

He has turned a deaf ear to appeals from the international community, led by United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon.

Amnesty International condemned the executions as “utterly reprehensible” in a statement from research director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific Rupert Abbott.

Following the executions, ambulances carried coffins away from the island where the men were put to death, with some shrouded in embroidery and others made of plain wood, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.

Australia’s consul general to Bali, Majell Hind, who took custody of the bodies of Chan and Sukumaran, was seen departing the Cilacap port with other consular officials in a heavily tinted van.

Hind was tasked with delivering the news of the executions to the Chan and Sukumaran families, who are staying at a nearby hotel.

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