Envoy says Indonesia president too busy to hear Australian leader’s plea for citizens’ lives

By , on March 28, 2015

President-elect Joko Widodo. Photo by Øystein Solvang / NHD / Flickr.
President-elect Joko Widodo. Photo by Øystein Solvang / NHD / Flickr.

CANBERRA, Australia—Indonesian President Joko Widodo has been too busy during the past three weeks to accept a phone call from the Australian prime minister to plead for the lives of two death row prisoners, an Indonesian envoy said Thursday.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters on March 5 that he had requested a telephone conversation with Widodo on the impending executions of Australian heroin traffickers Andrew Chan, 31, and Myuran Sukumaran, 33.

Indonesian Ambassador to Australia Nadjib Riphat Kesoema on Thursday brushed off suggestions of a diplomatic snub.

“The president was so busy,” Kesoema told reporters in the Australian capital, Canberra.

“Because, as you know, the first program of the president is going to his people, to the provinces. Not only in Java, in Kalimanta or Sumatra, but also in Papua. So it’s many visits that he should make,” he said.

Australia’s efforts to save the lives of the two Australians have strained diplomatic ties between the close neighbours that share a brittle bilateral relationship.

Abbott made his last request for a talk a week after a similar conversation failed to sway Widodo, who wants the two Australians to be among a group of 10 drug convicts to face firing squads soon.

“I’ve certainly put in a request because the government and the people of Indonesia need to know that this is important to us,” Abbott said in early March.

Lawyers for Chan and Sukumaran presented evidence to a state administrative court in Jakarta on Wednesday to support their appeal of a decree by Widodo denying the men clemency.

The court was adjourned until Monday when it will hear expert evidence.

Chan and Sukumaran were the ringleaders of a gang of nine Australians arrested in April 2005 while trying to smuggle more than 8 kilograms (18 pounds) of heroin from the resort island of Bali to Sydney.

In addition to the two Australians, a Nigerian national born in Spain, two other Nigerians, a Filipino woman and four men from Brazil, France, Ghana and Indonesia are also scheduled to be executed.

Indonesia’s Supreme Court on Thursday said it has turned down a judicial review filed by Filipino Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso.

“Her appeal was rejected because she did not meet requirements for a judicial review,” said court spokesman Suhadi, who uses one name. “Such an appeal has to provide new evidence or proof of contradictions in previous rulings, or mistakes or oversights by judges in the lower courts.”

The rejection left only Serge Areski Atlaoui from France and Martin Anderson of Ghana still awaiting the outcome of requests for judicial reviews by the Supreme Court.

All but Veloso have been moved to the prison island of Nusakambangan, where they are to be executed. Veloso, the only woman, is still being held in Wirogunan prison in the Central Java town of Sleman.

The planned executions have also soured relations between Indonesia and other countries, especially Brazil. Widodo has vowed not to grant mercy to drug offenders because Indonesia is suffering a “drug emergency.”

Associated Press writer Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.