Priest calls for clemency for Bali Nine death sentences

The eventual execution of the Bali Nine members condemned to death will have far-reaching consequences for Australia-Indonesia relations, the parish priest of drug mules Scott Rush and Michael Czugaj warned yesterday, calling on the Prime Minister to intervene in a bid for clemency.

Speaking yesterday to ABC PM, Fr Tim Harris, parish priest of Corinda-Graceville on Brisbane's southside where the families of Rush and Czugaj live, says it's a very anxious time for both families.

"I think that the big question is one of clarification, that is to find out whether they are in fact, at least whether Scott in fact is going to receive the death penalty," he said.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, it took hours yesterday for Foreign Minister Alexander Downer to confirm that Indonesia's Supreme Court had imposed the death penalty on Scott Rush, 20, Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen, 23, Si Yi Chen, 21, and the youngest of the group, 19-year-old Matthew Norman.

Rush has been described as "very shocked" by the news.

Six of the Bali Nine now face the firing squad, after the appeal court confirmed the death penalty for ringleaders Andrew Chan, 22, and Myuran Sukumaran, 25.

"The Prime Minister needs to get onto the phone to the Indonesian Prime Minister and see if some clemency can be arranged," Fr Harris said.

"This will have far-reaching consequences I believe not only for the families but also I believe for Indonesian and Australian relationships going forward," he added.

But Prime Minister John Howard this morning warned against expecting success from government efforts to save the Bali drug mules.

Mr Howard said his government would appeal for clemency, but he had "no sympathy for drug traffickers and nor do millions of Australians".

He said Australia was opposed to the death penalty and would do everything it could to stop the executions, but he warned there was a strong possibility the appeals could fail.

PM accused of acting like Pontius Pilate

However, the Prime Minister's response did little to reassure some anti-capital punishment campaigners.

Melbourne's Fr Peter Norden, who fought against last year's execution in Singapore of drug trafficker Van Nguyen, compared the Prime Minister's response to that of Pontius Pilate who washed his hands as Christ faced execution.

"The Prime Minister is signalling through such duplicitous language that he has already given up in this matter", says Fr Norden, "and if I was a family member of one of those facing execution, I would be very disappointed".

"Like Pontius Pilate he is washing his hands of the case, saying that the Australian Government shares no responsibility in this matter and can do little about it".

Fears grow for Indonesian Catholics

Meanwhile, AsiaNews reports that fears are continuing to grow over the fate of Fabianus Tibo, Marinus Riwu, and Dominggus "Domi" da Silva, three Catholics on death row in Indonesia.

The men were convicted of masterminding the massacre of Muslims in Poso in 2000.

The national police chief, General Sutanto, said yesterday: "The police are ready to go ahead with the execution and are just waiting for necessary administrative procedures by the Attorney General's Office of central Sulawesi to be finalized."

The chief talked about the death penalty of the three men after a meeting behind closed doors in Parliament. "Their days are numbered, seeing that the second plea for clemency to the president has been rejected," he said. "The reason for the refusal to grant a pardon was due to the fact that more than two years have not passed since the first was made, as stipulated by law."

The general said he was therefore waiting for the go-ahead from the Attorney-General: "We are only the material executors, an instrument in the hands of justice."

PM urged to appeal for clemency if death penalty imposed on drug smugglers (ABC World Today, 6/9/06)
'Don't expect' death row rescue (Sydney Morning Herald, 6/9/06)
Pleas to Indonesia will go on: Downer (Sydney Morning Herald, 6/9/06)
Poso: Days of Tibo and friends "numbered" (Asia News, 6/9/06)

Priest pleased Rush won't appeal (CathNews, 8/3/06)
Priest holds hope for drug mule Rush (17/2/06)
Demonstrators call for execution of Indonesian Catholics (CathNews, 5/9/06)
Fate of Bali bombers raises hope for three condemned Indonesian Catholics (CathNews, 22/8/06)
Miracle last hour stay of execution for death row Indonesians (CathNews, 14/8/06)
Thousands rally to save death row Catholics in Indonesia (CathNews, 11/8/06)
Indonesian Catholics to face firing squad on Saturday (CathNews 10/8/06) a/A>

7 Sep 2006