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Despite protests, Indonesia moves forward to execute drug convicts

    Protesters pause for a prayer as they gather outside the Indonesian Embassy in the financial district of Makati city, east of Manila, Philippines to appeal to the Indonesian government to spare the life of convicted Filipino drug trafficker Mary Jane Veloso on Friday.

JAKARTA, Indonesia » Two are young Australians portrayed back home as generally good lads. One is a Brazilian who is mentally ill. There are four Nigerian men, a female migrant worker from the Philippines and an Indonesian laborer.

They come from diverse backgrounds and circumstances, but all nine were convicted of drug crimes in Indonesia. And all are scheduled to die soon in a mass execution on a remote island off the southern coast of Java.

In what is believed will be the largest such execution in Indonesia in decades, firing squads could start the job as early as 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.

A 10th convict, a French citizen, had been part of the group but won a last-minute, two-week reprieve late Saturday, according to a spokesman in the attorney general’s office, Tony Spontana. Spontana said the decision involved “an issue with the high courts” but provided no further explanation.

Officials of other countries whose citizens are condemned to die are also pressing for reprieves.

The executions, if carried out as planned, will follow those of six drug convicts shot to death in the same spot in January, and are part of a campaign by President Joko Widodo to combat what he calls a “national emergency” of drug abuse.

He has rejected appeals for clemency from 64 drug convicts on death row, the vast majority of them foreigners, and plowed ahead with plans to execute them by the end of the year.

The effort has angered allies and set off diplomatic disputes on three continents.

Some countries, like France and Australia, oppose the death penalty under any circumstances. Others have attacked Indonesia’s judiciary as corrupt and incompetent.

Christof Heyns, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, has called for an immediate halt to executions in Indonesia because it was not following international norms.

He said in February that the six people executed in January and that nearly all of those to be executed in the next batch did not get fair trials.

Joko has rebuffed such criticism as foreign interference, and has demanded other nations respect Indonesia’s “sovereign right to exercise our laws.”

How those laws will be exercised is explained in minute detail in national police regulations.

On the day of the executions, sometime after midnight, the prisoners will be driven through the gates of Pasir Putih prison on Nusakambangan Island, where they have been held in semi-isolation, to a wooded site far enough away that other inmates will not hear the gunshots.

The first two of the prisoners, all of whom will wear special white uniforms, will be escorted to metal poles, where they will be bound at the hands and feet. They will be blindfolded and given the option of standing, sitting or kneeling.

Separate 12-member firing squads from a special mobile brigade of the national police — one squad for each prisoner — will stand 16 to 30 feet away.

After the condemned are given a few minutes to compose themselves, a police commander will draw a sword, signaling the two firing squads to raise their rifles and take aim at their respective prisoners.

The commander will then thrust the sword downward, giving the order to fire. Only three members of each squad will have live rounds in their rifles.

The same procedure will be repeated for the others.

The two prisoners with the highest profiles are Andrew Chan, 31, and Myuran Sukumaran, 34, members of the Bali Nine group of Australians who were arrested in 2005 trying to smuggle 18.5 pounds of heroin out of the Indonesian resort island and back home.

While Chan and Sukumaran have admitted guilt, their lawyers have said that the judges who handed down the death sentences had offered to impose lighter penalties in exchange for money.

The Indonesian wife of one of the Nigerian convicts, Silvester Obiekwe Nwolise, 47, says the judges at his 2004 trial for smuggling more than 2.5 pounds of heroin into the country offered him a 20-year sentence if he paid a bribe of $22,000.

Lawyers for Rodrigo Gularte, a 42-year-old Brazilian, continue to demand that Indonesia’s attorney general remove him from the execution list and transfer him to a mental health facility because he has suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder since he was a teenager. They have released medical documents from Brazil dating back more than 20 years, as well as evaluations by Indonesian doctors after his 2004 arrest to support their claim.

Under Indonesian law, any person with a confirmed mental illness cannot be criminally prosecuted.

The attorney general’s office, however, recently sought an opinion from police psychiatrists who it said found Gularte to be mentally fit. The prosecutors have not released the evaluation or shared it with his legal team.

Mary Jane Veloso, a 30-year-old from the Philippines, was unable to understand what was taking place during her 2011 trial after, her family maintains, she was duped into carrying nearly 6 pounds of heroin concealed in a suitcase from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta the previous year.

At the trial, she was assisted by a young interpreter who spoke little English. Though Veloso spoke little English herself, she spoke no Indonesian.

The lone Indonesian in the group, Zainal Abidin, 50, a burnisher at a furniture workshop in South Sumatra province, sought a review from the Supreme Court in 2005 after getting a death sentence for trafficking 129 pounds of marijuana.

The court is required by law to respond to such requests within six months, but did not do so until January, nearly 10 years later, and only after Joko’s execution policy began. The court has not ruled on the appeal, but is expected to do so Monday.

Jamiu Owolabi Abashin, 41, another Nigerian, did not have a lawyer when he appealed his death sentence. His appeal was rejected.

“For those countries that exercise the death penalty, they have to make sure that the best mechanisms of the judicial system should be open to and exercised by the convicted person,” said Haris Azhar, coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, an Indonesian human rights group.

“That’s not the case in Indonesia,” he said. “In fact, it’s the other way around.”

The attorney general’s office, in announcing the reprieve for the French convict, Serge Atlaoui, 51-year-old a father of four, said there would be another review of his case in a state court but offered no details.

Questions about the integrity of Indonesia’s judicial system, and pressure from some of its largest aid donors, have not shaken the government’s resolve.

Joko has refused to take phone calls from Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia, who among other things has proposed a prisoner swap between the two nations to bring Chan and Sukumaran back home. He later offered to pay the cost of their incarcerations in Indonesia.

Joko’s government also rebuffed requests for clemency by a delegation from the European Union in March.

While state prosecutors have criticized some of the convicts for trying to “buy time” by launching legal appeals, the government has created its own delays.

Attorney General H.M. Prasetyo said the executions would go forward, but not during the 60th commemoration of the Asia-Africa Conference, which Indonesia is hosting through Sunday.

“You wouldn’t execute people during a high-profile government event with lots of visitors,” he was quoted as saying by The Jakarta Post.

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