“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth- “ideas that the punishment should fit the crime can be traced back to the earliest of all laws, Hammurabi’s code. To put it simply; if the crime you committed was grave then so shall be the punishment for said crime. Generally, within the west this has led to an idea of a hierarchy of crimes, one where murder and rape are at the top and pirating Netflix shows or handling Salmon suspiciously are at the bottom. (Yes, that’s real I promise)
Societies however rarely agree with one another as to what crimes are at the top of this hierarchy, what crimes deserve the worst punishments, so what happens when two societies collide, where the gravest of all punishments is given to tourists from a country that’d barely give a decade in jail. This is the unfortunate story of the Bali nine.
The date is April 8th, 2005, young 19-year-old Michael Czugaj has completed his first and only international trip, leaving his home of Australia for a short break to Indonesia. Travelling with him is his school friend Scott Rush, they are travelling two days after fellow school friends Renae Lawrence and Martin Stephens. All hailing from the land down under.
Luckily for our adventurous tourists none need to worry about a place to stay, all four of our adventurers have prepaid rooms and $5,000 cash at the courtesy of fellow Aussies Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran (pronounced my-ran sue-coo-mar-run) but let’s not get ahead of ourselves yet, lets speak a bit about the destination.
Big trouble in little Indonesia
Indonesia, 55,000 km of sun, sea, great food and of course, many many drugs. A survey conducted in 2004 estimated that 1.5% of the population over 15 had used drugs, which is strange considering that 9.6% of the UK population is estimated to have done so and as many as 30% of the US population is estimated to have done so. So, you may be asking, why is Indonesia connected with drugs?
Well apart from the obvious suspicions that question raises there is one simple answer, you don’t try your own product. Indonesia has been described by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime as one of Asia’s main drug trafficking hubs.1 To clarify, it is not that Indonesia produces the most drugs, and does not consume the most drugs, but it does seem to act almost as a market for drugs produced elsewhere.
Although at this point it is worth issuing a word of warning to any of our more adventurous viewers out there, Indonesia may be famous for its number of trafficked drugs, but it is also infamous for its punishments for drug smuggling, ranging from routine police beatings all the way up to the most severe punishments in the land.
It is with this background to every university student’s no.1 holiday location that we can better understand what drew our six intrepid Aussies to this archipelago.
A world of mystery and a certain lack of subtlety
It is no overestimation to say that we here at this channel are far from being experts on drug smuggling, but you would imagine that one talent you’d need to be a drug smuggler would certainly be subtlety.
Although based upon knowledge from the casual criminologist it does not seem that subtlety is a talent employed by most criminals.
It is on this subtlety that you must think, if you’re going to smuggle drugs, attempt to bypass airport security and make yourself a quick buck then surely the one place you do not want to go is the country referred to by the United Nations as a hub of the international drugs trade. That’d be like prince Andrew taking a weekend away to Great Ormond Street, for any Americans out there simply replace prince Andrew with Bill Cosby and we’ll let you fill in the rest.
Now if you want to avoid spoilers for what happens to our adventurous Aussies then you should look away now; for it was not only our four students that arrived in Indonesia, rather unsurprisingly the Australian authorities had caught onto this not-so-subtle plot.
You see, as the kids say, this was not Sukumaran or Chan’s first rodeo, back in 2004 both had successfully imported what is referred to as a “commercial quantity” of heroin into Australia from Indonesia. In fact, they had been investigated for so long that only one month after our adventurous bunch had landed in Indonesia that an entire syndicate’s worth of drug smugglers had been arrested, a syndicate who Sukumaran and Chan were supposedly members of.
In fact, relevant to the controversies as we shall cover later, the Indonesian authorities were said to have no clue of the plot until agents from the AFP (Australian Federal Police) informed the Indonesian authorities of the identities of those involved.
A holiday dreams are made of
Now back to the happy adventures of Rush and Czugaj. You see after arriving in Indonesia most of the smugglers were reported to have spent long times inside their hotel rooms, I imagine any of us who as a child broke our mum’s favourite vase while she was at work or dyed the cat pink can understand the anxiety they must have felt. Despite this Rush and Czugaj were reported to have been making the most of their holiday, spending time shopping, eating, drinking and going diving.
Like I said…. Very Subtle.
On the 16th however the holiday had ended, it was time to leave their fun behind and engage in the serious criminal enterprise that they had come to the country for in the first place, on the 17th the group of six made their way to airports and were all promptly arrested. It’s at this point that any numerically gifted viewers may be asking though, it’s called the Bali nine, so where are the rest?
Well, it was not only the smugglers that lacked subtlety but also the producers. Alongside Sukumaran, Chan, Czugaj, Rush, Stephens and Lawrence were arrested Si Yi Chen (pronounced C and Y), Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen (Pronounced Tan Duck Fan Nug-goy-en) and Matthew Norman. The three being arrested in a hotel room with Sukumaran while the rest of our adventurers made their way to the airport.
Rush, Stephens, Lawrence and Czugaj were all arrested as they made their way through airport security, each had hidden a total of 8.3 kilograms of heroin in plastic bags at various places around their bodies. Chan was arrested shortly after these four, having made it to the seat of his Australian airlines flight before being escorted off by a mixture of AFP agents and Indonesian police. Notably found on Chan at the time of his arrest were three separate mobile phones.
Yet again, subtle; can you imagine being that airport security guard? Like what did you expect, you’re looking through the luggage and see all the normal stuff and then see three separate identical mobile phones. One upside of the swathe of YouTube videos available on criminals is it has made me feel a lot safer.
After the Dream comes the Nightmare
Not all is looking good for our adventurous Aussies, their carefully planned and executed subtle plot akin to that of a Bond villain has somehow been foiled. It’s at this point that what Amnesty International would describe as “contentious issues” begin to enter the story.
For a starters all nine members of the group were held up until the 22nd of April without charge, for reference in the United Kingdom you must be charged within 24 hours of arrest or 48 hours in exceptional circumstances only. Now this may not appear as an important point, which would be an understandable view, except this is where that snazzy intro comes into relevance.
As mentioned earlier, Indonesia is known as one of the drug capitals of the world, not because of usage but because of traffic. For that reason, Indonesia has introduced what Amnesty international would refer to as a second “contentious issue” to try and combat drug smuggling. That’s right kids, it’s time for the death penalty!!
Specifically, Indonesia allows for the death penalty in cases of drug trafficking whereas offences of possession would only hold a maximum sentence of ten years.
However of course we all know Indonesia wouldn’t execute citizens of another country, right? That’s like majorly against the rules of international relations, you don’t kill somebody else’s citizens.
Unfortunately, the Indonesian police seemed to disagree. On the 27th of April 2005, Colonel Sugiarto, head of Bali’s drug squad stated that police would seek to charge all nine defendants (all of which were Australian citizens) with the capital offence.
Well at least the judges can be trusted to uphold this basic idea of international law, right? Well, not exactly, on the 14th of February 2006 Chan and Sukumaran gained the onerous honour of becoming the targets of the first ever death sentences passed by Denpasar District court. All other defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment, with Lawrence and Rush being sentenced on the 13th of February, Czugaj and Stephens being sentenced on the 14th and the remaining three being sentences on the 15th.
Well, okay come on Simon, don’t lose fate in the Indonesian justice system just yet, there’s entire appeals process right? Surely that’ll save our adventurous Aussies, well on the 26th of April 2006 Lawrence, Nguyen, Chen and Norman all had their sentences reduced to 20 years, only for prosecutors to then have Chen’s 20 years upgraded at no extra cost to a death sentence on the 6th of September 2006, Rush, Nguyen and Norman subsequently also having their appeals overturned and receiving this now upgraded prize.
Well, I guess sometimes prosecutors get what they want right? Well not exactly, you see what was so shocking about this was that the prosecutors had only requested life imprisonment to be instated by the court.
Luckily Norman, Chen and Nguyen managed to have their sentences reduced to life sentences on the 6th of March 2008, with Rush joining them in August 2010.
Of course, though, anybody who was keeping track of all these various names would have noticed, this leaves Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, otherwise known as the ringleaders.
The Bali two
Both Chan and Sukumaran were separated by prosecutors almost immediately, identified as the ringleaders of the entire affair, unfortunately this reputation would be an idea often repeated throughout the remainder of their appeals. Our two intrepid ringleaders ultimately appealed in 2011 against their death sentences to the Supreme Court if Indonesia, only for each to have their appeals utterly rejected, the grounds for rejection resting entirely on the organisational role they had taken.
However, don’t lose all faith in the Indonesian justice system yet, because if I know one thing about the wonderful country which ranks in at 102 on the world corruption index it’s that we can trust the politicians right?
In 2014 both Chan and Sukumaran appealed for clemency from then Indonesian president Joko Widodo, a brave move considering the man had been quoted earlier the year stating that he was aiming for 65 death row executions of drug dealers to be carried out by the end of the year. Unfortunately, on the 30th of December Sukumaran’s plea was rejected, with Chan’s being rejected on the 22nd of January 2022.
An eye for an eye
In the early hours of the 29th of April 2015 Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran would have been roughly dragged from their beds, along with six other men, one Indonesian, one Brazilian and the other four all Nigerian. From there they would have been led to a waiting van on the Nusa Kambangan prison island, they would have been driven a short distance and then taken over to several stakes in the ground, they would have been blindfolded, a doctor would have placed a black cross with tape over each of their hearts and then they would be executed (depending on your view, murdered) by firing squad.
No warning would have been given to Chan, Sukumaran or their families, the Indonesian system of execution is coldly efficient in that manner. No sooner would they have known that the 29th was their final day then they would have found themselves tied to stakes and hearing a countdown in a language they did not speak.
At the same time several vigils were held for Sukumaran and Chan around the entirety of Australia, a concert was held in their memory and Amnesty International organised several vigils around the country to mark this “contentious happening.”
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott stated that the executions were cruel and unnecessary and several other voices, including the former chief justice of Indonesia Jimly Asshiddiqie (good luck I couldn’t find out how to pronounce that one) described the execution as not only cruel but unconstitutional, most of them having viewed Chan and Sukumaran as having rehabilitated themselves by this point.
At the end of the day, no matter your view of what happened to Chan and Sukumaran, whether you believe they deserved it or not, they were executed alone, in the dark and away from their families. Both men’s families have spoken at length in the media about the pain of losing their loved ones without the chance to say goodbye.
At this point many of you must be considering as to what controversies there are to consider, after all haven’t, we already covered the basics of the entire death penalty debate? Well, you’re correct, however, to say that the Bali Nine is only an example of the death penalty debate is to simplify it to the greatest extent possible.
The first controversy worth mentioning is the claim from by Chan and Sukumaran’s families that they were asked for a bribe in order to reduce the sentences of the two men to 20 years in prison.2 It would be easy to dismiss this as simply a family clinging at anything to try and save their loved ones however it is worth mentioning that both Chan and Sukumaran’s original lawyer and the Australian minister of Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, all came out in support of this claim, the latter claiming it as “concerning.”
Don’t think that this covers the Australian government however, a further controversy is through their lack of action. Back when the death penalties were announced then Prime Minister John Howard made statements that the youth of Australia should have been aware of the death sentences were in place and not to “take terrible risks.” However, in my book a “terrible risk” as an 19 year old ends with a rash and awkward trips to a pharmacy not being executed at the crack of dawn.
The final controversy simply put is the entire idea of executing those who smuggle drugs for political gain. Several commentators pointed to the relative unpopularity of President Widodo, who at the time of denying the clemency requests of Chan and Sukumaran did not even have a majority in the Indonesian legislature. There are several claims around the Indonesian media (at least the bits I could read) which further the idea that Widodo only executed the two not for interests of justice but for a few points in the opinion polls. Even those who do support the death penalty generally require the reason for the death penalty to be more than just securing your nice cushy job for the next few years.
The Bali Nine is the go-to case of when worlds collide, it is a classic case example of the ideas of the death penalty debate taken to the extreme. It is of course worth noting that the reasoning behind these executions is not meaningless, in 2018 14,996 people died of Heroin abuse in the USA, 2,000 in Australia and an unknown although estimated high amount in Indonesia. The members of the Bali Nine were clearly criminals, they never once denied this, having all consensually transported Heroin.
The matters this video have dealt with are all serious, and understandable people will have strongly held views on both sides, those who maybe have lost loved ones to the abuses of the evil that is drug abuse and those who cannot ever come close to understanding the ideas of the death penalty.
However, one thing that the Bali Nine brings forward separately to all of this is the idea of the politicisation of these affairs, both politicians in Indonesia and Australia used the case of the Bali Nine to further their own political goals, losing sight of the fact that ultimately these are nine individuals, three of which having now lost their life. (Nguyen died in 2018 from Stomach cancer)
Ultimately to understand the Bali Nine you only need to understand one idea, that the punishment of a crime fit the evil caused through the commission of that crime, and the Bali Nine is an example of when two different worlds, that of Australia and Indonesia crash together in almost violent disagreement.