SYDNEY (AFP) – Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott Thursday offered a glimmer of hope for two men facing imminent execution in Indonesia after phoning President Joko Widodo who he said was “carefully considering his position”.
Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, ringleaders of the so-called “Bali Nine” drug smuggling gang, were arrested for trying to traffic heroin out of Indonesia in 2005 and sentenced to death the following year.
Their appeals for presidential clemency, typically the final chance of avoiding the firing squad, were recently rejected by Widodo and a court this week dismissed a bid to challenge that decision.
The looming executions by firing squad have dramatically heightened tensions between Australia and Indonesia, fraying ties that were only just recovering from a spying row, and Abbott called his counterpart on Wednesday evening.
“Well, it was a positive sign that the conversation took place,” said Abbott, who last week angered some in Indonesia by reminding Jakarta of the aid Canberra had provided during natural disasters.
“The fact that the president of Indonesia and the prime minister of Australia can talk candidly about these issues is a sign of the strength of the relationship and it’s a sign of the depth of the friendship between Australia and Indonesia.”
He said it would not help Chan and Sukumaran to detail his talks but “suffice to say that the president absolutely understands our position,” adding that Widodo “is carefully considering Indonesia’s position.”
Indonesia’s foreign ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir declined to comment on the detail of the call, but said he understood the efforts made by Australia to represent its citizens, adding that “dialogue between Australia and Indonesia has never been closed”.
“When we have open communication, which we do with Australia, this helps in ensuring that our bilateral relationships remain intact even in the most difficult of situations or times,” he said.