In the early hours of tomorrow morning it will be a year since Indonesia executed Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, who were shot by firing squad along with six other men around 12:30am on 29 April 2015.
Yesterday Indonesian authorities transferred out of Kerobokan the two men Myuran had hand-picked to continue his art, printing and computer rehabilitation programs. They claim this was part of a “clean out” of troublemakers, yet it places in doubt the continuation of the programs at one of the most difficult times for those close to Myuran and Andrew. Regardless of the actions of the prisoners, if these programs were truly valued by the Indonesian authorities they would have factored their preservation into the management of the situation. Ironically too, most gang activity was kept away by Myuran when he was alive.
This insensitivity towards loved ones and supporters is reminiscent of the joy authorities took in tormenting the men and their families as much as possible in the lead up to the executions last year. Who can forget the transfer to Nusakambangan conducted with the fanfare of a full military operation? And photographs that could only have been taken by those involved in the transfer plastered all over the media? Then, on their final day, the distraught families forced to walk a gauntlet through jeering crowds to get to the boat to take them to the island because the authorities decided to stop the cars 100m from the port?
Being vengeful and vindictive is not the behaviour of a proud and civilised nation, but rather a pathetic and petty one. It is not a show of strength, but a mark of bullying. And it is not a display of confidence, but rather highlights uncertainty and fear.
Indonesia was not afraid of Myuran and Andrew because they were powerful drug traffickers. They were afraid of them because their journey from minor drug players to beacons of hope and reform had the potential to expose the Indonesian system for the farcical failure that it is.
Indonesia is rightfully worried about the damage that drugs are doing to its community. The government’s approach is typical of the war on drugs narrative: that by being tough they can deter others from becoming involved. However, like the entire war on drugs, this doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Drug use and trafficking has not subsided anywhere in the world that maintains these hardline policies, least of all Indonesia where poverty, corruption and a lack of education only add to the likelihood that citizens will turn to drugs. It is rehabilitation programs, support services, community involvement and a sense of purpose that make a discernible difference. This is not merely conjecture: Portugal’s approach of decriminalisation and provision of support services has seen a marked decrease in those ending up in a cycle of drug use and crime. But these programs cost money and don’t sit well alongside corruption. It is much easier to ignore the problem, lock some people up and leave them to fend for themselves, execute a couple and spin the story that they’re doing a lot to combat the drug problem.
Unfortunately for Indonesia, Myuran and Andrew demonstrated that there was a better way. They sought out and reformed themselves through the vocations of art and religion, then put together self-sufficient comprehensive rehabilitation programs for other prisoners, whom they also counselled and supported. These programs – ranging from yoga to art to computer skills to religious studies to metal work – have seen numerous prisoners break their drug habits and develop skills they can use in the real world. Most have stayed away from drugs and lead productive lives.
It is a testimony to the value of these programs and the hard work of Myuran and Andrew that they have outlasted the mens’ own lives. The prison community and its supporters have been determined to keep them going, despite challenges and setbacks.
This is in stark contrast to the prisoners at the mercy of the Indonesian system who are provided nothing more than somewhere to sleep and basic rations of food. If they aren’t on drugs when they enter prison, the boredom, stress and ease of availability will almost certainly lead them to use inside. They then leave with an addiction and no support to function in the real world, leading to a life of poverty and further crime.
The more the spotlight shines on Myuran and Andrew’s rehabilitation programs, the more pressure that will be placed on Indonesia to reconsider its current approach. It is not about the international spotlight: there is already significant opposition to Indonesia’s judicial process around the death penalty. Rather, it is about the domestic mood. As more and more prisoners leave Kerobokan rehabilitated and champion the programs, and as comparable programs are set up in other prisons by transferees and other inspired prisoners, the public might start to question the government’s current approach.
It was a similar story in the lead up to the executions. The fanfare surrounding the transfers to Nusakambangan, the determination to carry out the executions and the harassment of the family was part of the fiction to convince the Indonesian public that Myuran and Andrew were powerful drug kingpins whose deaths were necessary to prevent the deaths of thousands of potential users. In reality they were executing an artist and a pastor: two boys who had grown into kind, thoughtful, compassionate men determined to make a positive difference and contribution to the world.
And that is precisely what they did.
A year ago, Myuran and Andrew’s dignity and courage in the face of such a horrifying inevitability laid bare Indonesia’s brutality and the death penalty’s futility, exposing the executions for the manipulative and vengeful political affair that they were. Today, their contribution continues to peel back the layers of fiction of the country’s hardline stance on drugs and make a true difference to the lives of many. Their inner strength and transformation remain inspirational.
You might have killed them, Indonesia, but you will never destroy what they stood for. Myuran and Andrew rose above their circumstances and your spiteful power plays and their supporters will continue that legacy.
RIP Myuran and Andrew: the world is a poorer place without you.