Australia offers to pay for 2 prisoners' keep in Indonesia

AP News
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Posted: Mar 12, 2015 2:55 AM
Australia offers to pay for 2 prisoners' keep in Indonesia

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia has offered to cover Indonesia's costs for keeping two Australian heroin traffickers in prison for life if Jakarta grants permanent stays of execution, the foreign minister said Thursday.

Australia is lobbying hard to prevent the executions by firing squad of Australians Andrew Chan, 31, and Myuran Sukumaran, 33. They are among nine foreign drug convicts plus an Indonesian who are to be executed soon on Nusakambangan Island prison off the main island of Java.

The offer to pay for the prisoners' keep was made by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop last week in a letter to her Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi and reported by The West Australian newspaper on Thursday.

Bishop confirmed the offer was among several suggestions of alternatives to executions.

"We haven't had a specific response to that suggestion," Bishop told reporters.

The letter, seen by The Associated Press, proposes a prisoner exchange in which the Australians would be swapped for three Indonesian drug traffickers held in Australian prisons.

"The Australian government would be prepared to cover the costs of the ongoing life imprisonment of Mr. Chan and Mr. Sukumaran should a transfer not be possible," Bishop wrote.

In a response dated Sunday, also seen by AP, Marsudi wrote that President Jokowi Widodo "is of the position that such an exchange cannot be undertaken."

Also Thursday in Jakarta, the High Administrative Court adjourned a hearing on an appeal by the Australian pair until March 19 because of a lack of proper paperwork. Presiding Judge Ujang Abdullah said state prosecutors who were to have represented President Widodo failed to present authorization letters signed by the president and attorney general.

Lawyers for the Australians have appealed to the high court, arguing that Widodo's refusal to grant clemency did not give proper and individual consideration to their applications. A Jakarta court dismissed the appeal last month, ruling that clemency is a prerogative of the president.

Bishop also said that an inquiry into alleged corruption of the Australians' trial judges was another legal avenue open to the pair.

"A Judicial Commission has invited Mr. Chan, Mr. Sukumaran and their original lawyer to make statements in a matter relating to alleged corruption of the trial judges," she wrote.

"These are serious allegations and I request that your government accord due legal process and institute a pause in the execution preparations until these two important processes have been completed," she added.

A senior Indonesian official on Tuesday warned Australia to tone down its criticism of the planned executions, saying Canberra should be grateful to Indonesia for keeping asylum seekers away from Australian shores.

The minister for political, legal and security affairs, Tedjo Edy Purdjianto, said at a seminar that if about 10,000 migrants who have been stopped in Indonesia from reaching Australia were allowed to proceed, "there will be a human tsunami in Australia."

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott responded Wednesday by saying he isn't picking fights with anyone.

Chan and Sukumaran were flown last week from a prison on the resort island of Bali to the prison island where executions are carried out. The firing squads will execute the 10 simultaneously in pairs, so the execution date will not be set until all of them have exhausted legal appeals.

Chan and Sukumaran led an Australian smuggling group dubbed "the Bali Nine." They were arrested in 2005 after a tip-off from Australian police while trying to smuggle more than 8 kilograms (18 pounds) of heroin from Bali to Sydney. The rest were sentenced to prison terms.

Indonesia executed six drug convicts including foreigners in January, drawing protests from Brazil and the Netherlands, which withdrew their ambassadors after their citizens were denied clemency appeals. More than 130 people are on death row, including 57 drug convicts.

In another development, a district court in Tangerang, just west of the capital Jakarta, opened the case of judicial review by French national Serge Atlaoui on Wednesday. It adjourned the next hearing until March 25.

Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso, a Philippine national who is the only woman among the condemned inmates, is awaiting the ruling on her judicial review by the Supreme Court.

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Associated Press writer Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta contributed to this report.