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United States

Nov 10, 2016

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The presidential poll was not the only thing on the ballot yesterday in the United States. Results of some down-ballot measures show a more liberal and reformist agenda still exists among tens of millions of Americans who voted in some states to tighten gun controls, in some cities and towns to tighten the sugar content of soft drinks, and in some states for freeing up of laws restricting personal use of marijuana.

Take California — the country’s biggest and at times most radical state — which legalised recreational marijuana. Some local areas voted to impose soda sugar taxes, while voters rejected a move to end capital punishment. Californians 21 and older will be able to possess, transport, buy and use up to an ounce of cannabis for recreational purposes, individuals can grow as many as six plants. The measure would also allow retail sales of marijuana and impose a 15% tax. The measure only allows non-medical marijuana to be sold by state licensed businesses, and it gives the state until January 1, 2018, to begin issuing sales licences for recreational retailers. California legalised medical use dope years ago.

Voters in Nevada and Massachusetts also decided to legalise cannabis for recreational use, while voters in four more states — Florida, North Dakota and Arkansas and Montana — legalised the medical use of marijuana or eased restrictions. These four states all voted strongly for Donald Trump.

Tighter restrictions on guns were approved by voters in California, Nevada and Washington. However voters in Maine rejected a measure to expand background checks. The wins will no doubt be challenged by Donald Trump’s bestest friend, the National Rifle Association.

State ballots produced a mixed outcome for smokers. Higher tobacco taxes were rejected in three states — Colorado, Missouri and North Dakota. But again California, the world’s sixth-largest economy, increased tobacco taxes by US$2.87 per pack of cigarettes and also expanded taxes on e-cigarettes. Governor Jerry Brown knows an easy budget revenue hole filler when he sees it (hence his support fro the dope law and its state sales tax). The sales tax rise won support from 63% of those who voted in California, so the issue was supported across party lines.

Voters in several cities in California and Colorado also approved new soda taxes, a move that doubles the number of cities that tax sweet drinks. Boulder, Colorado, and three cities in the California Bay Area — San Francisco, Albany and Oakland — all voted in the new tax on Tuesday. Previously, only Philadelphia and Berkeley had soda taxes.

Separately, voters in four states approved minimum wage increases — Washington, Arizona, Colorado, and Maine. And on the criminal justice front, voters in three states, California, Nebraska and Oklahoma, said they wanted to maintain the death penalty, by rejecting measures that would have ended capital punishment.

Asia-Pacific

Jul 7, 2016

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Last week, 73-year-old Vietnam-born Australian Nguyen Thi Huong was sentenced for trying to smuggle 2.8 kilograms of heroin to Sydney.

Despite the fact that more countries than ever are abolishing the death penalty, the number of people being executed each year globally continues to grow. For two Australians, Nguyen and Pham Trung Dung, this isn’t a statistic, it’s the reality of their lives, or rather death: both are likely to be executed in Vietnam by way of lethal injection.

[The death penalty continues because we want it to]

Having seen two executions via firing squad, one can only hope that Vietnam’s newly developed lethal injection method provides a much more humane death than that experienced at the hand of the firing squad — and far less terrifying during the last fleeting moments of Pham and Nguyen’s lives.

In July 2014, Pham was sentenced to death by a Ho Chi Minh City court for attempting to smuggle four kilograms of heroin to Australia.

Let’s be frank, both Pham and Nguyen would have known that their efforts to smuggle heroin to Australia involved committing crimes in both Australia and Vietnam. They had to have known that their actions in Vietnam could, and most likely would, attract the death penalty if they were caught.

Arguably, a combination of greed and arrogance can often undermine logic in decision-making — whether you’re young or old.

But the conscious nature of Pham and Nguyen’s decisions shouldn’t impact on Australia’s support for its citizens, nor its campaign against the death penalty.

While Australia stands against capital punishment, our recent potted history of political responses — before and after an execution — at best reveals inconsistency, and at worst xenophobia.

When it came to the 2008 execution of the three Bali Bombers — Imam Samudra, 38, Amrozi, 47, and Mukhlas, 48 — Australia sat silently. According to Kevin Rudd at the time, “in the case of foreign terrorists we are not in the business of intervening on any of their behalfs”.

After the executions the Rudd government announced a campaign against the death penalty, but Australia’s tacit support for the Bali Bombers’ executions displayed our political hypocrisy for all to see.

When it came to the Bali Nine ringleaders, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the story was a little different. Various diplomatic and personal efforts were made to prevent the April 2015 execution — to no avail.

[How we will remember Chan and Sukumaran

In the aftermath of these executions few appeared willing to consider that our selective protests to the death penalty could be interpreted as xenophobic attacks on Indonesian sovereignty. Arguably, we left Indonesian leaders with no means to prevent the executions and save face.

We shouldn’t be too quick to criticise any Indonesian for adopting this perspective. The sentencing of Vietnamese-born Australians Pham and Nguyen to death in Vietnam hasn’t attracted much media coverage or public interest. And unfortunately that supports accusations that our objections to the death penalty are selective.

Many of Australia’s Asian neighbors apply the death penalty broadly — for drugs, terrorism, murder, rape, child exploitation, foreign bribery and corruption — so this problem is not going to go away.

Australia needs a consistent and pragmatic national strategy that outlines its policy approaches to consistently addressing the death penalty challenge.

Firstly, this document needs to make a clear statement on Australia’s long-term commitment to the abolition of the death penalty, while also recognising the sovereignty of nation states.

The strategy also needs to provide a clear policy stance on diplomatic responses to cases where Australian’s have been sentenced to death. Our diplomats need a clear engagement framework on the death penalty to ensure consistency of effort.

Finally, the strategy needs to outline how Australia’s law enforcement agencies will continue to collaborate with international partners who apply the death penalty. Australia’s success in combating serious and organised crime in Asia can be directly attributed to international police engagement: information sharing, capacity development and joint investigations.

While we wait for such a strategy, Australia’s consular service staff in missions such as Ho Chi Minh City will continue to visit and assist our citizens facing the death penalty — as they should. In cells in countries such as Vietnam, Australian citizens are likely reflecting why their lives seem to have less value than those of the Bali Nine.

*Dr John Coyne is Head of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Border Security Program. Prior to joining ASPI John was head of the Australian Federal Police’s Strategic Intelligence Services.

Asia-Pacific

Apr 29, 2015

5 comments

Australia’s media outlets have reacted to the news of the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran with a mixture of sadness, sympathy and anger. But it wasn’t always so.

In February 2006, the Daily Telegraph splashed with the news the Australians had been sentenced to death. “No sympathy: Their drug operation would have destroyed thousands of lives — now they’re paying with theirs,” the front page read.

That coverage wasn’t out of character for much of the Australian media, which took a very long time to become sympathetic to the plight of Chan and Sukumaran. Last month, BuzzFeed contrasted front pages from 2006 with the ones in recent weeks. The piece highlights the extraordinary shift in tone in many parts of the Australian media.

The shift extends to the language used to describe the two. For a very long time, they were referred to as “kingpins”. Sukumaran was known as the “enforcer”. The coverage was a sore point in artist Ben Quilty’s public farewell to the duo yesterday.

“I hope that in the future, in this country, no young man is victimised by the media the way Myu and Andrew were,” he wrote on Facebook. Others have made similar references to the early coverage.

In a 2010 Dateline interview with the two, the men joked about the way they had been covered.

“I did three months of training, and I became a martial arts expert,” Sukumaran said.

Chan said: “Here I am living with my parents … how many ‘Godfathers’ do you know living with their parents? I probably have a few thousand in savings and things. Had a car, had a bike. That’s about it.”

Sukumaran’s sister Brintha said: “The media was pretty much telling everyone who he was, and they’re so loud that whatever we said meant nothing. I felt like people have already judged Myuran and made a judgment about our family.”

But by the men’s execution in the early hours of this morning, no media outlet was anything but highly sympathetic to their plight. The Courier-Mail depicted the Indonesia President with blood on his hands. Their families’ desperate pleas for mercy received blanket coverage.

In the “I stand for mercy” campaign, many of Australia’s leading artists, media figures and entertainers, from Alan Jones to Germaine Greer, pleaded for mercy to be shown to Sukumaran and Chan. The shift has been slow, but extraordinary.

Guardian Australia features editor Brigid Delaney, a co-founder of the Mercy Campaign, which for the past four years fought for clemency for the two men, says there was a concentrated effort to get the media interested in Chan and Sukumaran beyond the stereotype that had been crafted for them in the early days.

“They had been labelled in the media … and I suspected there might be an element of racism involved. They didn’t necessarily look like most Australians … and we felt there might be an uphill battle to get people to sympathise with them,” Delaney said.

“But as soon as I met the families, and the guys, I felt they were so hilarious, and so warm, and wonderful, that I felt part of the story was getting people to get to know them. And that’s something that the media can help with. When that happened — when that sense of their story being told and their characters being known — no one thought they were saints, but people got beyond the stereotypes. And that changed things.”

She adds that over time, many Australian reporters based in Indonesia got to know the men and their families, and that began to come through in the reporting.

“Anything you read by [Fairfax Indonesian correspondents] Tom Allard, Michael Bachelard, even Jewel Topsfield, who has only started that round recently, as well as [News Corp Indonesian correspondent] Cindy Wockner, you can feel that there’s a connection to the guys, and the families.”

Australian National University academic Ross Tapsell has recently spent time in Indonesian newsrooms as part of a research project on the Indonesian media.

He says that the duo’s clemency appeals relied on showing Sukumaran and Chan had been rehabilitated. The Australian media picked up this message of rehabilitation, but, unfortunately, it didn’t penetrate into Indonesia.

“I think in many ways, you can understand and explain the change of coverage because of the way the two men changed,” he told Crikey. “The sad thing is that in the Indonesian media, they’re still described as kingpins and drug lords. That story, their families’ story, really wasn’t coming through.”

Other factors could also have played a part. Respected public figures, like Archibald-prize winning artist Ben Quilty, spoke strongly in favour of the two men. Quilty spoke particularly of Sukumaran, who had channeled his time and energy into art. Shadow foreign minister Tanya Plibersek spoke in parliament early this year of her husband’s rehabilitation after spending time in prison for drug offences.

And in recent months, the Sukumaran and Chan families have also been increasingly vocal in the media, though Delaney says there are problems with this.

“The thing that the media should respect is that the families should have a choice about whether to be public or not,” she said.

“They weren’t the ones who committed the crime. They’ve been made to suffer horribly. I feel uncomfortable in the fact that we need to parade family members so people can feel a connection to the story. The situation was always strong enough to report on, without the spectacle we saw yesterday, of [Sukumaran’s sister] Brintha trying to get through that media pack.”

On the way to see her brother for the last time yesterday, Brintha Sukumaran collapsed, and had to be carried through the media pack to the gates of the prison.

In Australia, the broader public have also embraced Chan and Sukumaran in recent years. Last night on The Drum, former Fairfax Indonesian correspondent (now investigations editor) Bachelard remarked on the change in attitudes he had seen.

“I think the Australian public have been very late to this,” Bachelard said.

“I was in Indonesia writing stories about this, and getting very little traction at all. These were the poor cousins to Schapelle Corby in the popular mind. That very early attitude that some in the media took, that these guys were guilty and were at fault, which was never really very much corrected or reinterpreted once these guys were rehabilitated, that made the argument to get public sympathy for these guys much harder,” he said.

“You’d notice when you wrote a story about the Bali Nine … that people weren’t really engaged, weren’t clicking on it, until the very end.”

At the end, perhaps that was always going to happen. Asked what ultimately drove the greater coverage, Delaney concludes that “sadly, it’s the hangman’s noose, the proximity to death, the sense of the story being very dramatic”.

Asia-Pacific

Apr 29, 2015

5 comments

Mary Jane Veloso’s parents and two sons protest against her death sentence

Pleas for mercy for Bali Nine drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran went unanswered, but a last-minute outpouring of support and empathy from the Indonesian people might have saved 30-year-old Filipina Mary Jane Veloso from an Indonesian firing squad last night.

The dramatic reprieve came as eight other death row inmates, including Chan and Sukumaran, were executed as scheduled.

A huge response on Twitter caused the #SaveMaryJaneVeloso and #BiarkanHidup to become Indonesia’s top trending topic in the hours leading up to the executions, with a heart-rending picture of Veloso’s two young sons holding a poster calling for her life to be spared going viral.

The push to save Veloso had gathered momentum in recent days but received a huge boost yesterday when the woman who initially lured Veloso to Indonesia on the promise of work as a maid turned herself into police in the Philippines.

Veloso was caught with a suitcase containing 2.2 kilograms of heroin in the city of Yogyakarta in 2010. She has always maintained she was set up, and as in the case of Chan and Sukumaran there have been allegations of corruption made against the judges who sentenced her to death.

At the time of writing it was still unclear as to the exact reason why Veloso had been saved, but it provided some unexpected good news on an otherwise awful evening in which Indonesia’s normally sensationalist television channels mostly treated the story with respect.

I say mostly, as sadly a couple chose to treat it as a macabre sporting event requiring dramatic music and action-packed montages, rather than the ending of eight people’s lives.

Once Attorney-General HM Prasetyo held a live press conference shortly after 9pm local time confirming that the executions would go ahead, most of the major news channels such as Kompass and Metro TV went to rolling coverage, with talking heads pontificating from the studio and regular live crosses to reporters in Cilacap.

Most of the opinion seemed to be supportive of the hardline stance of President Joko Widodo. This again exposed the difference between the Bahasa- and English-speaking press on the issue.

Jakarta’s two English dailies, The Jakarta Post and The Jakarta Globe, have been broadly against the executions, with the Globe particularly strident, issuing editorials denouncing them on a near daily basis.

Both splashed the “mercy” sign beneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge across their front pages yesterday, while the national broadsheet Kompass relegated it to page three.

Comments & corrections

Mar 25, 2015

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On sports broadcasting rights

CEO of Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association Andrew Maiden writes: Re. “Ignore News’ bulldust about sports rights” (Friday). You cite UK pay TV price increases in arguing that Australia’s anti-siphoning scheme should not be relaxed. The scheme, which bans competition for the rights to 1300 sports broadcasts, is an old world economic protection of the kind dismantled in industry after industry over 30 years by governments of both colours. One of the problems with the anti-siphoning scheme is that it treats sport as a public service, instead of multi-billion dollar entertainment businesses with a responsibility to monetise assets, recoup costs, pay players and officials and reinvest in sport at the grassroots level. The price for watching premium broadcasts of Australian sport is declining, not increasing.  A cable subscription with dozens of entertainment channels and premium sport costs less today than a year ago, and direct online subscriptions to the football codes are available from as little as $3 a week.

Pot, kettle, black box

Jacob Schluter writes: Re. “Rundle: the dark side to Mia Freedman’s life blather” (yesterday). After reading yet another one of Rundle’s rants (I don’t know why I do it, though this one was significantly shorter than most so thats probably why I made it through), I must take exception to his closing statements. “In the meantime, would it be too much to ask people writing about whatever this thing is that we call ‘depression and ‘anxiety’ [sic] to do a little cursory research before they sound off?”. What a wonderful suggestion.

Rundle might, however, want to heed his own advice, given that clinical research and metadata studies have for several years demonstrated that black box warnings are of no effect AND there is no increased risk of suicide in the early weeks of SSRI or SNRI therapy. Indeed, the only thing black box warnings have done is decrease the prescription of anti-depressants, potentially at the cost of missing patients who actually need those medications and associated treatments. Prescribing levels for anti-depressants in the US have never reached pre-black box warning levels in the 12 years that they have been in place and the concern we practitioners face now is the idea that depression and anxiety are being undertreated through conservative use of appropriate medications.

Like most risk management things, once a warning is in place its hard to have it removed, despite the wide availability of clinical studies that show the warnings are not warranted. I’m all for taking pot shots at self-serving “confessions”, such as Mia’s, but when your own evidence is as dodgy as Mia’s then you might want to shut up before you add to the harm being caused by the Mia Freedmans of the world.

On the death penalty

Lowy Institute Program  Director for Polling Alex Oliver writes: Re. “The death penalty continues because we want it to” (yesterday). The headline and Hussein’s commentary suggest that Australians broadly support the death penalty. Lowy Institute polling strongly suggests otherwise. In mid-February 2015, the Lowy Institute commissioned Newspoll, via its weekly telephone omnibus survey of 1211 randomly-selected Australian adults, to test Australians’ attitudes to the death penalty in relation to Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, and more broadly to the death penalty for drug trafficking in general. Fewer than one in three (31%) Australians said the executions of Chan and Sukumaran should proceed. A relatively high 8% responded “don’t know”.

Our polling also found that most Australians oppose the death penalty for drug trafficking in general. A substantial majority (69%) of the population believes that, in general, “the death penalty should not be used as a penalty for drug trafficking”. Only 26% say the death penalty should apply to drug trafficking offences. Six percent responded “don’t know”. Roy Morgan’s historical polling by telephone from 1986 to 2009 found a declining level of support among Australians for the death penalty being carried out in other countries, falling from 73% in favour in 1986 to only 53% in favour in 2009.

Hussein also states: “The problem for anti-death penalty campaigners is not only that it remains so widespread but that it remains so popular, even in countries that abolished it decades ago”. Amnesty International’s “Death Sentences and Executions 2013” report is based on a comprehensive global study of the death penalty around the globe. Of 193 nations in the UN, 98 (around half) have abolished the death penalty for all crimes. A further 35 are considered abolitionist in that, as Amnesty reports, “they have not carried out any executions during the past 10 years and are believed to have a policy or established practice of not carrying out executions”. Only 58 nations retain the death penalty for ordinary crimes. Amnesty’s research shows a strong upward trend over the last decade in the number of nations abolishing the death penalty.

The Australian government has been working extremely hard to spare the lives of two Australians facing execution in Indonesia, and the lives of many more citizens of numerous nationalities are at stake in the future. The promotion of misconceptions such as those put forward by Dr Hussein is, in my view, of dubious value.

The dangers of Roundup

Ingrid Strewe writes: Re. “How Roundup really works” (yesterday). There is another area of concern with Roundup. It acts on the Shikimate pathway a plant only pathway, but the flora in the gut of humans has the Shikimate pathway. Oh dear!

Asia-Pacific

Mar 24, 2015

5 comments

In 1977, convicted murderer Gary Gilmore became the first person to be executed in the United States since the reinstatement of the death penalty and the last to die by firing squad. Gilmour’s life and death have been recorded in two landmark books — Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song and Shot In the Heart, a shatteringly powerful family memoir by Gilmore brother, Rolling Stone journalist Mikal:

“One moment you’re forcing yourself to live through the hell of knowing that someone you love is going to die in a known way, at a specific time and place, and that not only is there nothing you can do to change that, but that for the rest of your life, you will have to move around in a world that wanted this death to happen.”

Or at the very least, did not do enough to prevent it from happening.

The families of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran still face the very real prospect of having to live in such a world. So does the family of Shafqat Hussain, a young Pakistani man who was granted a last-minute stay of execution last week after claims by his lawyers that he was only 14 years old when he is supposed to have committed his crime (the kidnapping and murder of a seven-year-old child) and had confessed under police torture. Pakistan has undertaken 48 executions since lifting the moratorium on the death penalty in response to the Peshawar school massacre last December. Shafqat Hussain’s case is exceptional in having generated a national and international social media campaign in his support.

The problem for anti-death penalty campaigners is not only that it remains so widespread but that it remains so popular, even in countries that abolished it decades ago. Despite the bipartisan opposition to its reintroduction in Australia, opinion polls have consistently shown strong public support for capital punishment, and legal academic George Williams warns that no federal law exists to prevent a state government reintroducing it in a gung-ho display of law’n order. And Triple J’s Hack program indulged in just such a gung-ho display in February when it commissioned Roy Morgan Research to undertake a snap poll that found that a slim majority of Australians believed that death sentences against Australians convicted of drug trafficking overseas ought to be carried out.

There are even stronger levels of support for the death penalty by other means — the stop-the-boats policy that has led not only to the murder of Reza Barati on Manus Island but also the deaths of those returned to unsafe locations and the suicides of those plunged into despair after years of mandatory detention and abuse. Those of us who are opposed to the death penalty in all its manifold forms cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility when we have so comprehensively failed.

And we have failed in large part because we have been more intent on clearing the consciences of campaigners than on achieving successful outcomes.

“Not in our name” sloganeering focuses not on the release of detainees but on washing the blood and dirt from our own hands. For this reason, we must also focus on humane responses (which means a regional solution) to the deaths of asylum seekers at sea, not just an end to mandatory detention.

Guy Rundle suggests an outcomes-focused approach to campaigning for the lives of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. And an outcomes focus is the best rationale for this campaigning for the two Australians rather than for any or all of those awaiting execution around the world. We ought to campaign for Chan and Sukumaran not because Australian lives matter more than the lives of those on death row in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or Texas but because in a world of nation-states, we are permitted more licence to speak out on behalf of fellow citizens and hence we have a greater responsibility to do so.

Shot in the Heart also describes the tragic decline of Gilmore’s mother, Bessie, after the execution of her son. Alone in her trailer, she rejected solace even from those who had campaigned for clemency because however much they may have done to save her son’s life, it had not been enough. And we have not done enough either — or rather, however much we may have done, we have not done it effectively. Never forget, then, that despite the vigils and the GetUp petitions and the donations to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and Amnesty International, we live in a world and a society that wants this to happen.

Comments & corrections

Mar 9, 2015

5 comments

The complex matter of the death penalty

Andrew Gourlay writes: Re. “What will be the consequences of Bali Nine pair’s execution?” (Friday). Both America and China have death penalties in times of peace. What right have we to comment on duplicitous actions?

No room for conspiracy theories

Kirill Reztsov writes: Re. “Off to war we go” (Wednesday). By publishing comment in your subscriber email that implies that ISIS is a conspiracy set up by Western governments you are (albeit in a very small way) justifying and supporting terrorism, slavery, rape and destruction of historical heritage of an entire region. I think these claims should be beyond the pale of acceptanble editorial decisions alongside 9/11 conspiracy claims or Holocaust denial.

The rise of the cherrymander

Mal Hutton writes: Re. “Why are the SA Liberals so completely terrible?” (Friday). It was Neal Blewett, then an Adelaide University lecturer, who called it a “cherrymander” rather than playmander. A much more imaginative and appropriate term given that Tom Playford was famous for having a commercial cherry orchard, and the original term from the USA was Gerrymander.

On constitutional recognition of Aboriginal people

Jeff Ash writes: Re. “Rundle: Leyonhjelm is right about constitutional recognition … sort of” (Friday). Maybe it’s the WASP in me talking, but I just don’t see how constitutional recognition is the panacea for all the ills of Aboriginal people in Australia that its proponents insist it to be. Let’s give it a crack by all means, but it just smacks of another empty symbolic gesture borne from collective guilt that isn’t going to change anything on the ground. Haven’t the Aboriginal people had enough of that?

Asia-Pacific

Feb 27, 2015

5 comments

For those who have been trying to prevent the execution of Bali Nine duo Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, the unexpected deferral of that execution provides a precious opportunity. It is an opportunity to fundamentally rethink the approach that has been adopted so far and to recalibrate the “message”, the plea for clemency, accordingly.

The emphasis to date has been on the impressive success story of the pair’s rehabilitation within Kerobokan prison, including the assistance they have provided to other inmates. The well-co-ordinated information campaign within Australia has had the effect of convincing most Australians as to the merit of the pitch for mercy. That was important because, before that campaign, there was a degree of scepticism, if not suspicion, on the part of many Australians. And, in order for a convincing pitch to be made to Indonesia, a threshold requirement was always going to be that Australia, as a nation, was fully supportive.

But this matter will not be played out or determined by reference to the Australian court of public opinion. Indonesian President Joko Widodo, and those who advise him, will act on the perceived views of the Indonesian public. The notional average Indonesian will take some note of the Sukumaran and Chan human-interest story, but, at the end of the day, it will be outweighed by the inevitable schadenfreude regarding the predicament of any foreigner from a privileged country who finds himself ensnared in the Indonesian criminal justice system. Especially when the government is running hard with populist declarations to the effect that there should be no exceptions, no special treatment.

An appeal for mercy predicated on the cruelty of the death penalty has been, and was always going to be, ineffective, if not counter-productive.

Guy Rundle noted in his Crikey piece on February 17, 2015 that “the values that undergird the death penalty are the need for social terror, to implant the horror of it, of dying like that, in the collective breast”.

From the point of view of the Indonesian government, the concept of the death penalty as a deterrent is damaged and undermined if foreigners from friendly countries are reprieved. For our Prime Minister to have made motherhood statements about the sanctity of human life while at the same time hinting at repercussions for Indonesia in terms of future aid and other assistance was clueless. The riposte Abbott’s comments received — orang akan terlihat warna sebenarnya  (a person’s true colours will be revealed) — was predictable and devastating.

So what is the message that Australians, and in particular the Australian government, should be sending, as broadly and directly as possible, to the Indonesian public? It is that the rationale given by Widodo for not making an exception in relation to Sukumaran and Chan is patently false on the known facts. That rationale is that drug traffickers must be executed because the drug trade is having such a toxic effect on Indonesia that 50 people are dying a day.

Sukumaran and Chan were not involved in trafficking drugs to Indonesians. Bali was just a way station for them. Their eight kilograms of heroin were bound for Perth, and it was going to be Australians who would have been affected by their crime.

By contrast, some foreigners on the Indonesian death-row list have unquestionably been involved in the drug trade in Indonesia. Maximising Sukumaran and Chan’s chances of survival unfortunately requires the metaphorical abandonment of such others, at least for the time being.

The most recent official Australian Federal Police line being run in the media was that all would be revealed in due course, but only after all clemency appeals had been finalised/exhausted. The suggestion seemed to be that formally confirming the obvious (i.e. that the AFP had opted to hand Australian scalps over to their Indonesian law enforcement counterparts) might negatively impact on the clemency process.

It is a bizarre and unacceptable position that must be debunked as soon as possible. The disclosure by the AFP of the information that led to the arrest of the Bali Nine in Indonesia (and to subsequent action taken by Indonesian police in Jakarta) should be the lynchpin of the pleas being made on behalf of Sukumaran and Chan.

It is only by foregrounding the Australian disclosure that we will be able to press home our best point. Namely, that we have sacrificed the opportunity to punish our own criminals in order to assist Indonesia. It is the sole extraordinary or exceptional circumstance capable of persuading Indonesians that Sukumaran and Chan should be spared.

Books

May 9, 2014

5 comments

At the beginning of 2013, Brigid Delaney (@BrigidWD) attended a silent retreat. Bending the definition of “silent” somewhat, she tweeted the whole thing.

 

Delaney told Crikey this wasn’t cheating. “I was literally silent,” she said.

That the retreat managed to keep Delaney’s mouth shut was something of an achievement. Perhaps it would have been too much to ask that it curb her rampant tweeting, too. And it is rampant. “I tweet every day,” she said, “many times a day. I use Twitter like a stream of consciousness. It’s very quotidian. I also tweet a lot of news and culture stories.”

Her Twitter feed is thus a fairly accurate representation of her personality as a whole: Delaney the journalist jostles with Delaney the anti-death penalty activist and both have to contend with Delaney the self-styled clown. (She once locked herself in a bathroom and tried to escape by fashioning a key out of soap. She tweeted about it, of course.)

More recently, Delaney the novelist has made an appearance on the feed, following the publication of her first fictional effort, Wild Things, last month. “I’m tweeting some book-related stuff,” Delaney said, “but trying not to overload my feed with it.”

Set on the campus of an exclusive university, Wild Things follows the members of a college cricket team in the wake of a wild weekend in the mountains where a Malaysian student, dragged along for the ride, goes missing.

“I went to a university college and thought it was a fascinating world,” Delaney said. “It was a kind of halfway place — closed, secretive, with its own rituals and language — but at the same time attached to universities where new ideas and fresh thinking were the order of the day. I found moving between the two places really interesting, particularly at 18, when everything felt so new and novel.”

“As a journalist and a former lawyer, I also became interested in people who commit crimes in groups,” she said. “How is the group regulated when they are operating outside the law? How do a large group of people keep a secret? Does getting away with a crime embolden people to act recklessly and think they can be bad without consequence? Another big question was how power works in Australia. A lot of the powerful networks start at school and university.”

The book, which Delaney began in 2006, has been a long time coming. “There were technical challenges,” she said. “It was initially written in the first-person plural, which proved to be a lovely voice but too tricky to sustain in a long-form project. I had to scrap most of it and start again.”

In the meantime she wrote another book, This Restless Life, a non-fictional account of her generation’s hyper-mobile existence, hopping from job to job, lover to lover, city to city. Delaney has never quite shrugged off the restless life herself. She spent three months a year in New York City for the past two, travels to Indonesia regularly with her anti-death penalty work, and is this year planning trips to West Papua and Japan. “This Restless Life used a different part of my brain,” she said. “It was like a large op-ed, a book of ideas, not of characters.”

Delaney’s next project is a collection of interconnected short stories set in the world of Sydney media. “It’s called The Disruptions, and it takes place over the course of the NSW Labor years, roughly 2000 to 2010,” she said. “It’s about the effect of the internet on the world of print media and the lives of all these youngish journos.”

She’s now back in Australia after her latest overseas jaunt and working as director of news at the New Daily.

@BrigidWD’s #FF:

  • Virginia Lloyd (@v11oyd): For all things books
  • Alex McClintock (@axmcc): On boxing and the news of the day
  • Jessica Reed (@guardianjessica): French Guardianista
  • Susannah Guthrie (@susg91): Journalist at The New Daily, celebs and style
  • David Johnson (@_struct): Acerbic Melbourne man about town

On Australia’s media landscape…

I think now is a really good time to be a freelancer. There are some green shoots that make me feel very optimistic and excited about the future of the Australian media. The New Daily, The Saturday Paper and The Guardian Australia are three amazing new ventures that provide new outlets for journalists and more choice for readers. You pay $3 for the Saturday Paper — a bargain — and The Guardian and the New Daily are free. That’s a great deal for readers. I found the hardest years of freelancing were in 2010-11. There was a lot of pessimism amongst the big media companies and lay-offs. I saw my work drop off and word rates go backwards. These new media outlets were yet to appear. I considered leaving journalism and started studying for the bar exam. I thought it was all over.

On the Mercy Campaign and the death penalty…

I don’t think the state should have the power to take lives. It’s such a final, irreversible step, and doesn’t allow for the fact that a conviction might be wrongful. Albert Camus wrote: “But what then is capital punishment but the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal’s deed, however calculated it may be, can be compared?” I also believe in rehabilitation. The work that Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran — two of the Australians condemned to death in Bali — do in Kerobokan is great. They are helping other prisoners learn English, have set up a computer room, and Myuran has set up art classes. Artist Ben Quilty has been into the jail to assist him with those classes. There are a lot of positive things happen there in a prison that we often hear only negative things about. I’ll disclose my involvement in Reprieve and the Mercy Campaign if I’m writing about the issue. I’ve done a lot of op-eds on the issue, because I do have strong opinions about it and feel very strongly that it shouldn’t exist.

The Bali campaign is called The Mercy Campaign. It’s a chance for people to respectfully ask the Indonesian President to spare the lives of Andrew and Myuran. I’m also involved in Reprieve, which sends Australian interns to the southern states of the US to assist attorneys there on capital cases. The program has been going for around 11 years and has assisted in getting prisoners off death row. I’m immensely proud of the work young Australians do over there, on their own time and their own dime. It says something about how poorly funded the American capital defence system is when you have Aussie volunteers propping it up. Reprieve has also started working closer to home, on death penalty cases in Asia. I don’t believe that fighting against the death penalty is a lost cause. The Asian countries that we have started working in are mostly keen to modernise and engage with human rights. Indonesia in particular has shown a waning appetite for the death penalty. Particularly when their own residents are facing it abroad in countries such as Saudi Arabia. As for Andrew and Myuran’s plight, I would encourage anyone who cares to sign the petition. The pair has supportive families and a great legal team. They are keeping busy in prison and trying to be positive. I’m hopeful for them.

Crikey’s Follow Friday series:

United States

Sep 22, 2011

5 comments

Troy Davis was due to be executed this morning in Savannah, Georgia for the alleged killing of an off-duty police officer in 1989. But evidence, witnesses and appeals all indicate that Davis is innocent of the crime he has been convicted for.

Throughout the morning, Crikey has been liveblogging the situation, where a last-minute decision by the US Supreme Court saw a delay in execution, just minutes before Davis was too be killed by lethal injection. After several hours of examining the appeal, the Supreme Court refused to block the execution …

1.25pm update

Media representatives who witnessed the execution have just made public statements, explaining that it was a sombre event, but Troy Davis remained defiant until the very end and maintained his innocence.

One journalist explained that Davis spoke to the family of the victim and said despite the situation, he was not the one who killed Mark Macphail. Davis said he was not personally responsible for what happened that night, that he did not have a gun but that he was sorry for their loss

“I did not personally kill your son, father and brother. I am innocent,” said Davis.

Just before he was killed by officials, he turned to them and said: “For those who are about to take my life, may god have mercy on your souls, may god bless your souls”.

1.15pm update

Prison officials in Georgia have just announced that Troy Davis has been executed. His official time of death was 11.08pm ET.

1.00pm update

The execution of Troy Davis has apparently begun.

12.45pm update

The execution is proceeding, with a lethal injection due to be given to Davis within the next half hour. Latest news indicates that there were no dissents within the Supreme Court Justices in their decision to refuse to block the execution.

Hala Gorani from the CNN tweeted: “Georgia Dept of Corrections tells CNN #troydavis execution set to begin at 1105pm or 1110pm EST.”

A statement will come from the prison officials once the execution has happened. All death certificates of people killed by capital punishment lists the cause of death as “homicide”.

“We’re calling on everyone to stay calm,” said Benjamin Jealous, the head of civil rights organisation NAACP. For hours police presence has been increasing around the prison in Georgia where protesters have been awaiting news.

“We are drained here. People are crying quietly. This is an atrocity,” tweeted professor and historian Jelani Cobb from outside the prison.

12.20pm update

The Supreme Court has just refused to stay the execution of Troy Davis, says Democracy Now. This has been confirmed by Associated Press. This means he is still to be executed.

According to Kim Severson of The New York Times, the execution is expected to go ahead tonight. She tweeted a photo of family and supporters shortly after they received the news:

12.15pm

Kim Severson from The New York Times latest tweet explains the current difficulty for people at the prison:

“Wish I had news to report. TV reporters nodding off. #TroyDavis family and the handful of MacPhail supporters looking so strained.”

Many of Davis’ supporters appear to have left the protest outside the prison where he’s being held:

“The number of Davis supporters outside the prison has dwindled from hundreds to about 50, who appear to be outnumbered by armed security in riot gear.”

12.10pm update

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (a news publication from Georgia) recently tweeted:

“AP alert: Supreme Court has not yet ruled on request for stay of execution for #TroyDavis. No indication when ruling is expected.”

Journalist Amy Goodman from Democracy Now, who seems to be one of the only broadcast journalists continuously covering the case today, is doing a stellar job of continuing to broadcast although her show was supposed to finish hours ago. Her hands are full of ripped up pieces of paper and her mobile phone battery is flat, but she continues to do interviews with members of Troy Davis’ family, friends and supporters.

Many are now getting frustrated with the wait. Kim Severson from The New York Times tweets: “Protestors quiet. Police quiet. #TroyDavis family quiet. Heat, wait and emotional exhaustion taking its toll.”

Big Boi, the rapper from OutKast who is a high profile protestor outside the prison, recently tweeted:

“I don’t see how they wore hard bottoms all day in the civil rights movement, I got on Nike ACG boots and my feet are killin me”

Severson’s article on the planned execution at the NY Times has recently been updated and has an interesting look at what’s been happening tonight:

For Mr. Davis’s family, who were gathered on the lawn near the entrance of the prison, about an hour’s drive south of Atlanta, the almost unbearably tense moments of prayers and tears that came as the clock moved to the execution hour turned to screams of joy when word came that the Supreme Court was reviewing the petition.

No one knew what it meant, however. And another round of waiting began for more news from the Supreme Court.

“This delay, however temporary, is a miracle itself,” said Benjamin T. Jealous, the N.A.A.C.P. president.

Family members and officials from Amnesty International and the N.A.A.C.P. stood anxiously checking their cellphones for updates.

11.10am update

As we wait to hear whether the US Supreme Court has decided to grant a stay of execution in the Troy Davis case, Andrew Cohen, a legal journalist from CBS Radio, tweeted:

“If Scotus [Supreme Court of the United States] stays #TroyDavis execution tonight, it would be third in less than one week, virtually unparalleled in history of death penalty.”

To understand how many police cars have recently arrived outside the prison facility in Georgia, check out this video posted by rapper Big Boi from Outkast:

Continue reading “Troy Davis executed in Georgia”