October 10th is also known as the World Day Against the Death Penalty, an opportunity to stand up against capital punishment around the globe and to demand an end to this barbaric and inhumane practice that shouldn’t have any place in modern society.
I am in Melbourne, Australia today, where I had the very moving privilege of meeting Raji Sukuraman, whose son Myuran was executed in Indonesia in April 2015, along with fellow Australian Andrew Chan and six others, after having been sentenced to death on drug trafficking charges in 2006.
I remember those days with great sadness, as we joined a global movement of activists and advocates trying to convince Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo to spare the lives of those facing execution and grant clemency. In the end, all our efforts failed, the President couldn’t be swayed, and we all felt helpless and shocked, while a firing squad on Indonesia’s prison island Nusa Kambangan carried out the sentence.
But no pain is quite like the pain a mother must feel over losing her child, and it is impossible to imagine what Raji and her family must have endured in the days, months, and years since. That’s why I’m all the more grateful that she joined me today at a screening of Guilty, a moving film about Myuran’s tragic journey that really shows his transformation in the years following his sentence. Directed by Matthew Sleeth and screened today in all of Australia’s states and territories, Guilty is a powerful and engaging portrait. It’s the film’s sad irony that it really shows how Myuran managed to turn his life around in a positive way.
While in prison, he had found a purpose, a calling, an artistic talent. There is no question that he had left the darker days of the past far behind him. The fact that Myuran’s successful rehabilitation did not matter at all to those deciding on his fate makes his whole story so depressing, but it should also strengthen our resolve to fight for the abolition of the death penalty wherever and whenever we can. I simply refuse to accept the idea that taking someone life is an acceptable form of delivering justice. Human dignity is inviolable, and every society, every government should respect that.
One additional thought: When it comes to the global market in illicit drugs, all evidence shows that the death penalty is no deterrent at all. In Indonesia and elsewhere, the drug trade continues to flourish. Demand and supply run high, and others have long taken the places of the Bali 9.
I really hope that Myuran’s story will help open people’s eyes about rehabilitation and the irreversible inhumanity of the death penalty – not just today. I really welcome the initiative of the Australian Government in launching its strategy for abolition of the death penalty, and I hope Australians of all stripes will stand up, raise their voice and join the movement.