JAKARTA (AFP) – Indonesia has delayed the execution of two Australian drug smugglers by up to a month, backtracking on an earlier pledge to put the pair before the firing squad by the end of February.
Canberra has been ramping up diplomatic pressure in recent weeks for the pair to be spared, straining ties between the two countries, but Indonesian authorities denied that Australian pressure was behind the delay and insisted they would proceed with the executions.
Vice President Jusuf Kalla’s office Friday said the execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the ringleaders of the so-called “Bali Nine” heroin trafficking group, “will be delayed for between three weeks to a month from now due to technical reasons,” without elaborating further.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo – an ardent supporter of the death penalty who has refused clemency for the two Australians – denied Australia’s repeated appeals had swayed his resolve.
“No such thing,” he told reporters on Friday. “This is our judicial sovereignty.”
This month, Indonesia’s foreign ministry informed the Australian embassy that the execution of the two drug convicts would be carried out in February.
But since then it has announced, and subsequently backflipped, on details of the executions plan for Chan and Sukumaran.
On Monday it was announced the pair would be transferred this week from Bali to a high-security prison on Nusakambangan – signalling a date for their execution was near – only for that decision to be reversed 24 hours later.
Indonesia said it delayed their transfer because of logistical difficulties at Nusakambangan – the notorious island prison where five inmates were shot last month – with facilities at the execution site already at capacity.
Tony Spontana, a spokesman for the attorney-general’s office which oversees the executions, said once the prison was ready to receive the prisoners the executions would proceed.
“What needs to be underscored is the execution will still be conducted,” he told AFP after the postponement was announced Friday.
Indonesia also claimed they delayed the transfer because Australia had requested the men spend more time with their families, but denied Jakarta was bowing to pressure from Canberra.
Diplomatic tensions escalated this week after Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Indonesia should remember the significant financial aid Australia provided in the aftermath of the devastating 2004 tsunami that killed 170,000 Indonesians.
Abbott denied the comment was threatening, but Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi on Friday suggested Jakarta felt otherwise.
“We will not respond to an emotional statement, which was a threat in nature,” she said, adding she did not think Indonesia owed Australia anything for their tsunami aid.
Indonesia executed six drug offenders in January, including five foreigners, prompting a furious Brazil and the Netherlands – whose citizens were among those put to death – to recall their ambassadors.
Indonesia’s pledge to proceed with the execution of the Australians has also hiked tensions between Jakarta and Canberra, a relationship only just recovering from a damaging rift in 2014 over spying revelations and people-smuggling.