The old adage that people go bankrupt gradually, then suddenly, can be applied to other areas of life. For me as an outside observer, this was the case for Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.
The two men were co-ringleaders of a heroin smuggling operation from Indonesia to Australia. They were arrested in 2005, sentenced to death in 2006 by a district court, and had their appeals dismissed by the Indonesian Supreme Court in 2011. There was initial heavy media coverage, which gradually subsided. The two men drifted out of public consciousness. (All the while, undoubtedly their lawyers and family members were working feverishly behind the scenes to save them.)
Things accelerated in 2015. Indonesian President Joko Widodo rejected Andrew and Myuran’s pleas for clemency in January. Arrangements were being made in earnest for their execution. Australia’s diplomatic efforts stepped up, arguably more harmful than helpful at times. Daily media coverage revved up. Even just a couple of weeks ago, when we were shown pictures of the island where the executions would take place, I felt a mixture of despair and faint hope that there was still time left. Then, overnight, they were killed by firing squad. All hope extinguished.
The Australian response combined strong words with the symbolic action of withdrawing the ambassador to Indonesia. Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that the executions were “cruel and unnecessary“. I agree — even if they were considered “legal” under Indonesian law (but query the allegations of corruption by the trial judges). At this time it is natural to appeal to mercy, to the inherent worth of human life, to the way that these two men have genuinely turned their lives around during their incarceration — the pastor and the painter, as their families would like the world to remember them.
One article that really resonated with me in the aftermath of the executions was this one by Sunil Badami. Badami uses this episode as a lens to look at the Australian Government’s own human rights failings with respect to asylum seekers. How can we credibly plead for mercy for our own citizens, while deliberately causing the systematic and callous mistreatment of those who arrive by boat, in the name of deterrence? The Tony Abbott that called the killings “cruel and unnecessary” is also the same person who boasted that his government will not “succumb to the cries of human rights lawyers” in respect of its detention policy, which has been condemned by the international community. The same person who launched an extraordinary and vicious attack on Gillian Triggs, the brave Human Rights Commissioner who published this damning report at an inopportune time for the Government.
I don’t have much hope that this current government (or opposition, for that matter) will redeem themselves on this issue. But maybe this can be instructive for our own lives. In what ways are we living hypocritically? Do we hold views and advocate for positions that advance our own rights and interests without consideration of others? Maybe they’re not matters of life and death. Nevertheless, even small mercies can be precious things.