February 14, 2006

Two Australians Sentenced to Death in Bali Drugs Trial

DENPASAR, Indonesia -- An Indonesian court on Tuesday sentenced two young Australian men to die by firing squad for attempting to smuggle heroin from the resort island of Bali, verdicts that could strain ties with Canberra.

The sentences matched what prosecutors had demanded for Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the accused masterminds of a group of nine Australians arrested on Bali last April for trying to smuggle more than 8.2 kg (18 lb) of heroin to Australia.

Activists from an Indonesian anti-narcotics group inside the courtroom shouted "Hooray! Long live the judges!" when the verdicts were read out in separate sessions.

The court also sentenced two drug couriers to life in jail, after giving the same punishment to two others on Monday.

Chan, 22, shook his head, stared at the ceiling and then smirked when the verdict was delivered. Both he and Sukumaran, 24, are from Sydney.

"There are no mitigating factors. His statements throughout the trial were convoluted and he did not own up to his actions," chief judge Arif Supratman said, while handing down Chan's verdict.

"His actions ... tainted Bali's name as a resort island."

The death sentences could ignite criticism in Australia, which has abolished the capital punishment.

Australia had urged Jakarta not to impose the death penalty on any of the group and will plead for clemency for any condemned to die, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said on Tuesday.

Lawyers for Chan said they would appeal.

"Life and death are God's decisions. If it is made through a court verdict that equals murder," said lawyer Agus Saputra.

Prosecutors had said Chan was the "driving engine" of the operation.

He was arrested inside a Sydney-bound flight at Bali's airport after police had caught the four defendants sentenced to life with packages of heroin strapped to their bodies inside the airport.

It was unclear if Sukumaran would appeal.

Prosecutors had said Sukumaran helped strap the packages on the four couriers and was a planner of the operation. He was arrested at a Bali hotel.

The latest Australians to get life in jail were Michael Czugaj, 20, from Brisbane and Martin Stephens, 29, of Wollongong.

Their sentences also matched what prosecutors had demanded.

Czugaj appeared tense and stared at a translator sitting beside him as the verdict was read out in the Indonesian language.


Around 20 foreigners, most of them Africans, are on death row in Indonesia for drug offences. The latest foreigners shot by firing squad for drug offences were two Thais in October 2004. They had sat on death row for eight years.

The final stage of an appeal allows inmates on death row to seek clemency from the president.

The verdicts against the Australians have highlighted Indonesia's zero tolerance for drug offences.

On Monday, the court jailed Renae Lawrence for life even though prosecutors had asked judges to show leniency by jailing her for 20 years because of her cooperation in the case.

Lawrence, 28, from the city of Newcastle, is the only female of the group, dubbed the "Bali Nine" by Australian media.

Under Indonesian law, a prosecution demand is non-binding for judges but is seen as a strong recommendation.

Among verdicts of recent years, the same court jailed Australian woman Schapelle Corby for 20 years last May after she was found guilty of smuggling marijuana.

(With additional reporting by Achmad Sukarsono in Jakarta and Michelle Nichols in Canberra)