It's lucky the Bali bombers didn't have drugs on them

Photo: Ian Waldie/Getty Images

UPDATE: The Bali Nine duo were executed at 3.35am. Simon Thomsen wrote this commentary after the pair were moved to Nusakambangan prison island earlier this year.

Imagine if the Bali 9 had been smuggling heroin to fund terrorism. That’s not true – there are no links whatsoever – but the Australian Institute of Criminology notes that “terrorist groups continue to be heavily involved in the drug trade”.

The reason for bringing it up is that looking at the sentences handed down to the nine Australians and comparing them to the jail time given to Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorists, some would draw the conclusion that Indonesia’s courts would consider drug trafficking to fund terrorism a greater offence than actual terrorist attacks that kill hundreds of people.

With two Australians on death row, it’s worth asking whether their punishment truly fits their crime.

On 12 October, 2002, 202 people, including 88 Australians, died when a bomb went off at the Sari nightclub in Bali’s Kuta district. A further 209 people were injured.

On 17 April, 2005 in Denpasar, Bali, nine Australians, aged between 18 and 28, were arrested for attempting to smuggle 8.3kg of heroin from Indonesia to Australia.

On 9 November, 2008, three Indonesians, Imam Samudra, Amrozi Nurhasyim and Huda bin Abdul Haq were executed by firing squad for their roles in the 2002 Bali bombings. At the time, the Rudd Government did not object to the executions, but subsequently announced that it would campaign internationally against the death penalty.

Within days, two Australians, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, will be executed by firing squad as the “ringleaders” of the Australian drug group, despite repeated pleas for clemency from the Australian government and thousands more.

The other seven Australians involved, Scott Rush, Si Yi Chen, Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen and Matthew Norman were all sentenced to death at some stage during the appeal process, but had the sentence downgraded to life in jail.

Martin Stephens and Michael Czugaj are both serving life sentences.

Ranae Lawrence is the only Australian to have successfully reduced her sentence on appeal, from life to 20 years. Unlike the others, she did not face a second appeal.

While the death penalty was on Indonesian statutes when the republic was formed in 1949, the first executions didn’t take place 1973, just as Australia ended capital punishment.

Indonesia introduced it for serious drug offences in 1975, along with Singapore and Malaysia (where Australians have also been executed for drugs crimes), in a bid to halt the flow of narcotics trafficking down through Asia from the Golden Triangle.

The bomb blast site at a Bali nightclub, October 13, 2002. Photo: Edy Purnomo/Getty Images

Jemaah Islamiyah was behind the October 2002 Sari nightclub attack, the 2003 JW Marriot Hotel bombing, 2004 bombing of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, a second Bali bombing in 2005, killing four Australians, and a second JW Marriot Hotel bombing in 2009, which occurred simultaneously Ritz-Carlton bombing, which killed seven people, including three Australians.

Indonesia’s criminal justice system appears to have been far kinder to those involved in terrorist activities, with additional help from regular Presidential remissions to sentences.

The Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict reports that around 100 extremists, especially those involved in the 2002 Kuta bombings and the subsequent 2005 bombings in Jimbaran and Kuta, which killed 20 people, including four Australians and injured 129, including 19 Australians, have been released.

While the Indonesian government has focussed on a de-radicalisation program, there are questions about its effectiveness, with terror cells being controlled from jail, as well as some of those released being involved in further terrorist acts.

As Australian Policy Online points out: “overcrowding, understaffing and the poor physical condition of many Indonesian prisons combine to produce escapes of ordinary criminals so frequently that it is a wonder that not more extremists make the attempt”.

By 2010, just 13 of the 70 JI terrorists convicted for their involvement in the Bali bombings and 2004 attack on the Australian embassy in Jakarta were still in prison.

By May 2014, just five men from the two Bali attacks remained ­in jail.

Others have walked free. Here’s how a number of the key terrorists involved have fared.

Last year Muhammad Cholili, sentenced to 18 years for helping make the 2005 bombs that killed 20 people, was released on parole after serving less than eight years. To this day he denies any involvement in the restaurant attacks.

Others involved in the 2002 bombings have also benefited from the Indonesian legal system.

Abu Bakar Bashir, regarded as spiritual head Jemaah Islamiah, was found guilty of conspiracy over the 2002 bombings and sentenced to 30 months, but was acquitted on appeal and released in 2006. He is currently serving 15 years after being convicted in 2011 of supporting a jihadi training camp.

Umar Patek, nicknamed the Demolition Man, was arrested in 2011 in Pakistan, in the town where Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed three months later. The US offered a $1 million reward for his capture. He was found guilty of murder and bomb-making in 2012 and sentenced to 20 years. Prosecutors did not ask for the death penalty.
His wife was sentenced to 27 months for immigration violations.

Idris, also known as Johnny Hendrawan, admitted his involvement, including detonating a bomb. He walked free after a ruling that Indonesia’s anti-terror laws could not be applied retrospectively. He received a five year sentence for his involvement in the 2003 Marriott Hotel bombing, which killed 12, and was released 2009.

Masykur Abdul Kadir, sentenced to 15 years, also had his sentence overturned when the retrospective anti-terrorism laws were struck down.

Hambali. Source: US Justice Dept

Hambali, aka Riduan Isamuddin, dubbed the Bin Laden of Asia, was captured in Thailand in 2003 by US operatives and in 2006 was placed under extrajudicial detention at Guantanamo Bay. He is one of 17 high-value detainees there and considered the architect of the 2002 Bali bombing as the financier of the operation, with close links to Al-Qaeda as well as JI. No charges have been laid against Hambali, although US authorities recommended prosecution for offences against American citizens (seven died in Kuta in 2002). Indonesia and several other countries also want him to face court, and the lack of a trial remains a sore point in the region, especially for the survivors of the attack.

Hari Kuncoro brother-in-law of bombing mastermind Dulmatin (killed in a police raid in 2010), was arrested in a 2011 raid, along with 15 others. Kuncoro was sentenced to six years helping Dulmatin prepare the bomb.

Australia’s best known convicted drug smuggler, Schapelle Corby, spent nine years of a 20-year sentence in Bali’s Kerobokan prison for importing 4.2kg of cannabis before being released on parole 12 months ago. Her sentence was reduced by the President by five years, but she must remain in Indonesia until 2017.

It’s lucky for the Bali bombers that they didn’t have drugs on them.

*This story was originally published in February.

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