Australian opposition to capital punishment questioned

AP News
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Posted: Apr 30, 2015 6:49 AM

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia's political opposition accused the government of winding back the country's rejection of the death penalty during a heated debate Thursday following Indonesia's execution of two Australian drug traffickers.

The execution by firing squad of eight drug convicts, including the two Australians, has rekindled fiery criticism of the role that Australian police played in 2005 in tipping off their Indonesian counterparts about a plot led by the two men to smuggle more than 8 kilograms (18 pounds) of heroin from the resort island of Bali to Sydney.

The two men, Myuran Sukumaran, 33, and Andrew Chan, 34, were executed Wednesday. Other members of the so-called Bali Nine ring they masterminded received lengthy prison sentences.

Australia retaliated by withdrawing its ambassador from Jakarta, but ruled out downgrading its cooperation with Indonesian police, which it regards as a crucial defense against global terrorism.

Critics argue that Australia weakened its anti-capital punishment credentials when it failed to criticize Indonesia in 2008 for executing three Indonesian terrorists responsible for bombings on Bali in 2002 that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

The opposition Labor Party on Thursday accused the government of playing down Australia's opposition to the death penalty in its latest directive to the Australian Federal Police on how it should cooperate with other police forces including Indonesia.

Labor questioned why Justice Minister Michael Keenan had removed from his latest directive a requirement that the police "take account of the government's longstanding opposition to the application of the death penalty in performing its international liaison functions."

The directive, issued last May, outlines the government's priorities and expectations for the police force.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said the directive undermined protocols aimed at preventing Australian police cooperation from leading to the execution of Australians overseas.

He told reporters that Labor wants to make sure that such executions "can't happen again."

Government ministers angrily reiterated their government's opposition to the death penalty and accused Labor of seeking political advantage from executions that angered many Australians.

"I'm pretty outraged and offended that the Labor Party would use the tragedy of two Australians being executed to make what is an incredibly cheap and invalid point," Keenan said.

"We abhor the death penalty," Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told reporters, adding that "Australia's stand on the death penalty is an issue we can discuss with other nations in our region."

But independent Sen. Nick Xenophon said the government needed to explain why it had removed its objection to capital punishment from its police directive.

Australian law forbids the government from extraditing a suspect unless the country seeking extradition guarantees that the person will not be executed. But Australian police can provide intelligence to foreign police that enables investigators to charge a suspect with a capital offense.

Guidelines on death penalty investigations require that Australian police managers consider a list of factors before sharing such information.

The list includes the nationalities of suspects and "Australia's interest in promoting and securing cooperation from overseas agencies in combating crime."

The guidelines were introduced in 2009 in response to the Bali Nine case. The government said on Thursday that they still apply.

But there are concerns that the new directive reduces the emphasis on preventing executions.

The Federal Court in 2006 dismissed a law suit by Bali Nine families that alleged Australian police had acted unlawfully by tipping off Indonesian police. Senior police have never conceded any wrongdoing.

But lawyer Bob Myers said that while Australian police broke no law, they were responsible for the two Australians' deaths.

Myers had approached a police contact in 2005 to ask that Scott Rush, a family friend who was 19 years old when he was arrested with the Bali Nine, be prevented from flying to Bali.

Rush was initially sentenced to death, but later had his sentence commuted to life.

"They gave these people to the Indonesians, knowing what the consequence was going to be, on a platter," Myers told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television on Thursday.

Lawmaker Clive Palmer, who leads a small party outside the governing coalition, proposed legislation on Wednesday that would ban Australian officials from disclosing any information that could lead to any Australian facing execution overseas. It would not protect foreigners.

Amnesty International said in a statement Thursday that "Australia and its agencies must take a consistent and principled stance against the death penalty in all circumstances, no matter who the person is and what they are charged with."

Anti-death penalty advocate Matthew Goldberg said Australian opposition to the death penalty had "hardened" since 2008 when Indonesia executed Bali bombers Imam Samudra, Amrozi Nurhasyim and Huda bin Abdul Haq.

Then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, a vocal opponent of capital punishment, said at the time that "They deserve the justice that we delivered to them."