Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has warned Indonesia of the potential for diplomatic fallout if Jakarta goes ahead with the looming execution of two Australian citizens on death row for drugs charges.
Indonesia has harsh penalties for drug trafficking and resumed executions in 2013 after a five-year gap. Five foreigners were among six people executed last month, the first executions since President Joko Widodo took office in October.
Australia has been pursuing an eleventh-hour campaign to save the lives of Myuran Sukumaran, 33, and Andrew Chan, 31, two Australian members of the so-called Bali Nine, convicted in 2005 as the ringleaders of a plot to smuggle heroin out of Indonesia.
The two will be moved this week from prison in Bali to a maximum security prison at Nusakambangan Island in central Java, where the execution by firing squad is expected to take place, said Momock Bambang Samiarso, head of Bali’s provincial prosecutors’ office.
The case has enormous resonance as a domestic political issue in Australia, and Abbott ratcheted up the rhetoric at the weekend amid a growing campaign to boycott travel to Bali, a destination favoured by Australian tourists.
“We will be finding ways to make our displeasure felt,” Abbott told Australia’s Channel Ten on Sunday. “Millions of Australians are feeling sickened by what might be about to happen in Indonesia.”
It was unclear what measures Abbott was considering, but Australia and Indonesia have a long history of diplomatic tension, which has periodically complicated cooperation on regional issues, including people smuggling and intelligence.
Indonesia recalled its envoy and froze military and intelligence cooperation in 2013 after reports that Canberra had spied on top Indonesian officials, including former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s wife.
Full diplomatic cooperation was restored last May, but Foreign Minister Julie Bishop last month refused to rule out following Brazil and the Netherlands in withdrawing the ambassador from Jakarta if the executions went ahead.
Both countries withdrew their envoys last month after two of their citizens were among six people executed for drugs offences.
Indonesia defended its right to use capital punishment.
“The death penalty can be given for serious crimes, and in Indonesia, drug trafficking is a serious crime,” Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters in Jakarta.
Australia outlawed capital punishment in 1973 and public opinion staunchly opposes the death penalty for any crime.
The last Australian executed by a foreign government was Nguyen Tuong Van, by Singapore in 2005, also on charges of smuggling heroin. That incident had little effect on bilateral ties. But the execution of two Australians for drug offences in Malaysia in 1986 saw relations plummet.
A survey by the Sydney-based Lowy Institute think tank showed strong public disapproval of the execution, with 62 percent of the 1,211 people surveyed opposing the move.
“As the date for the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran appears to draw closer, Australian public and political opposition is crystallising,” Michael Fullilove, executive director of the Lowy Institute, said.
In Sydney, more than 150,000 people signed a petition for clemency. A growing boycott on social media has seen Australians use the Twitter hashtag #BoycottBali to announce the cancellation of holiday plans.
International pressure is also mounting, with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon making an appeal last week.