People can change – if you let them live

Update: Indonesia executed eight of the nine prisoners. Mary Jane Veloso was given a last-minute stay of execution. We will continue to work on her case.

On the back of Myuran Sukumaran’s portrait of Indonesian President Widodo the artist has scrawled a short note. It says simply ‘people can change’. For Widodo is the only person who can stop Myuran’s execution, scheduled for this evening.

Myuran knows the extent to which people can change – the Australian was convicted of drugs smuggling charges dealt to him a decade ago and sentenced to death by an Indonesian District Court, alongside his friend Andrew Chan, in 2006. During their nine years on death row, both Myuran and Andrew have led rehabilitation programmes; they are credited with helping to turn the prison around. Both have publicly spoken of their shame and regret in trying to carry heroin from Indonesia to Australia.

Myuran’s paintings are striking, compassionate and raw. We hosted an exhibition of his work at Amnesty UK last week.

And yet Myuran and Andrew (who married his fiancé in prison yesterday) are due to be shot by firing squad this evening on Nusakambangan, Indonesia’s ‘execution island’, alongside seven others convicted of drugs charges:

Raheem Agbaje Salami, Sylvester Obiekwe Nwolise and Okwudili Oyatanze from Nigeria
Martin Anderson, Ghana
Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso, Philippines
Zainal Abidin, Indonesia
Rodrigo Gularte, Brazil

This list of names is not an obituary, yet.

They are nine individuals, each with their own hopes, fears, families and friends. Their relatives can only plea for a reprieve. ‘From the bottom of my heart, President Widodo, please have mercy on my brother’, said Myuran’s sister this weekend. Mary Jane’s children asked President Widodo’s son to call on his dad to let their mum live, in a heartbreaking broadcast. Who could watch Myuran’s mum sobbing today ahead of the killing of her ‘beautiful healthy boy’ and not feel for her?

They are due to be shot by human beings. A group of special police officers will tie each prisoner to a post in dark nightfall, just before midnight. A colleague will shine a torch on to the prisoner’s heart. Another group of police officers will line up and fire at the target. Only some of the officers will have live ammunition, others will fire blanks so that they don’t have to face the moral consequence of guilt and blame, of knowing who fired the fatal shots. 'If we do the executions once or twice it is not a problem, but if we have to do it many times we will certainly be subject to psychological problems', a former executioner told The Guardian.

And then what? Executing these nine people is not going to reform the drugs trade in Indonesia. Killing them serves only to wrench families apart, 'making an example' of prisoners who have each served time for their crimes, by denying them their right to life, denying their families and friends a loved one.

Nine white coffins have been taken by ambulance to the island. Nine crosses await. Nine death certificates – allegedly with a time already stamped on them – are ready. The prisoners have chosen the witnesses who will watch them die, dressed in white. And yet – this doesn’t have to happen. President Widodo has a choice. People can change – their behaviour and their minds.

In a week of vast, insurmountable loss of life through unstoppable natural forces in Nepal, the needless and preventable deaths of these people seems a starkly cruel and unfathomable decision.

Today, Myuran and Andrew’s lawyer left the detention centre where his clients are to spend their final hours holding high a painting of Myuran’s proudly above his head. It depicts a dripping human heart – is it still beating? On the back of the canvas Myuran has written 'satu hati, satu rasa di dalam cinta' – Bahasa for 'one heart, one feeling in love'. It bears the signature of each of the nine prisoners. With just hours to go until guards shine a light on these prisoners, turning their hearts into targets to extinguish their lives, we can only hope for mercy.

Myuran Sukumaran's painting of a dripping heart. Copyright EPA

The back of a painting by Myuran Sukumaran today. Copyright: EPA

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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