Two Australians sentenced to death in Bali drug trial

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Two Australians were sentenced to death by firing squad today for leading a drug smuggling ring on Indonesia's resort island of Bali, verdicts that could strain ties between the neighbouring countries.

Andrew Chan, 22, and Myuran Sukumaran, 24 - who masterminded the trafficking of 8 kilogrammes of heroin to their homeland - showed little emotion as their verdicts were read out in a packed courtroom.

Four other members of the so-called "Bali Nine," all of them Australian, have been given life sentences. The sentences for the final three were expected tomorrow.

Indonesian anti-drug campaigners shouted "hooray" after the death sentences were read out for Chan and, in a separate trial, for Sukumaran.

Family members in the public gallery broke down in tears.

The verdicts were broadcast live in Australia, where recent drug trials involving citizens in Indonesia have triggered intense public interest.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, whose government opposes capital punishment, said the sentences were predictable given the "weight of the evidence."

Some members of the ring were arrested at Bali's airport with heroin taped to their bodies, while others were in a hotel room purportedly plotting another shipment.

"I feel desperately sorry for the parents of these people, I do," Howard told reporters in Canberra.

"But the warnings have been there for decades, and how on earth any young Australian can be so stupid as to take the risk is completely beyond me."

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, under pressure to crack down on illegal drugs in the world's most populous Muslim nation, said he hoped the verdicts would serve as an example to others.

Judge Arief Supartman said a panel of three judges at the Denpasar District Court found Chan guilty of "exporting heroin in an organised ring," and accused him of "damaging Bali's international reputation."

He also criticized Chan for showing no remorse during his trial.

Later, judges found Sukumaran guilty of involvement in an organised drug ring and said he too would face a firing squad.

"There is no reason to justify the actions of the defendant," said judge I Gusti Lanang Dauh.

Police escorted the two out of the courtroom in handcuffs, pushing them past hundreds of reporters and television crews and into a prison van.

Four of the "Bali Nine" drug mules - Michael Czugaj, 20; Martin Stephens, 29; Renae Lawrence, 28; and Scott Rush, 20, - were sentenced to life in prison in separate trials on Monday and Tuesday.

The last three will learn their fate on tomorrow.

All nine have the right to appeal, a process that could take years, or seek a presidential pardon, which would require an admission of guilt.

Canberra routinely pleads for death sentences passed on its citizens by foreign courts to be commuted to time in prison, but it is unlikely to take any steps until the legal process is complete.

Howard said that while he "would take appropriate action" to help members of the smuggling ring, "you cannot expect the Australian government to overturn the laws of another country."

Indonesia's prisons are full of foreigners, many of them on death row for drug offences.

The country has executed at least five people since 2000 for various crimes.