Every year, millions of tourists visit the island paradise of Bali. Most of them leave with happy memories of its beaches, art and culture, though not all. In 2002 and 2005, Islamist bomb attacks killed hundreds of visitors in popular waterfront resorts, and since then, the Indonesian government has worked hard to restore the island’s reputation as an untainted haven.
The bombings have stopped and the perpetrators – or, at least, those not responsible for suicide attacks – have been tried and shot. Only one problem remains before Bali returns to perfection: drugs.
Indonesia has adopted a hardline policy of punishing drug-runners with the same penalty as that meted out to the Bali bombers. They are tried and, if found guilty, taken into a forest under cover of darkness, hooded and tied to a pole, and then executed by a firing squad.
A five year moratorium on executions ended earlier this year when Adami Wilson, a Malawian drug trafficker, was put to death in March. So far, three more executions have been carried out in 2013. This is grim news to the 100 or so prisoners currently on death row across Indonesia, more than half of whom were convicted on drug charges.
One of those currently facing the ultimate sanction is a British grandmother called Lindsay Sandiford. At the end of August, she lost a Supreme Court appeal against her sentence, having already failed to satisfy Bali’s High Court in April. Sandiford can still ask for a judicial review of her case before appealing to the president for clemency. If those appeals fail, she will be shot by a 12-man firing squad at an undisclosed location, and at an undisclosed time.
In May last year, 57-year-old Sandiford was arrested at Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport after a large quantity of cocaine was found in her luggage. The mother of two told authorities that she was transporting the 4.8 kg of cocaine from Bangkok out of fear that a criminal gang would harm her family. She then helped authorities to carry out a sting operation which netted three other Britons allegedly associated with the drug ring. One of these, Julian Ponder, received a six-year jail term, while his partner, Rachel Dougall, was recently released after serving one year in Kerobokan Prison – “Hotel K”. A third man, Paul Beales, was sentenced to four years in prison.
In January, prosecutors at Sandiford’s trial asked for a 15-year sentence, but a panel of judges ruled that she had undermined the county’s anti-drugs policies and had damaged Bali’s reputation as a tourist destination. With no mitigating circumstances and a perceived “lack of remorse” the court sentenced her to death instead.
Sandiford certainly seemed to be remorseful. In a statement read during her trial, she told the court that “I would like to begin by apologising to the Republic of Indonesia and the Indonesian people for my involvement. I would never have become involved in something like this but the lives of my children were in danger and I felt I had to protect them.”
The gasps of surprise and horror which greeted the judges’ decision have not yet abated. The British Embassy in Indonesia is discussing how best to offer legal assistance, while Hugo Swire, Minister of State for the Foreign Office, told the House of Commons that “We strongly object to the death penalty and continue to provide consular assistance to Lindsay and her family during this difficult time.” Sandiford’s Cheltenham MP, Martin Horwood, told The Guardian that he was shocked by the harsh sentence. “The days of the death penalty ought to be past. This is not the way that a country that now values democracy and human rights should really be behaving,” he said.
Anti-death penalty advocates have also taken up her cause. Amnesty International noted that Sandiford is the second Briton to be sentenced to death for drug offences in recent months, with Campaigns Director (UK) Tim Hancock saying, “It is extremely sad to hear that judges have decided to give Lindsay Sandiford a death sentence – despite the fact that the prosecution weren’t even asking for it.”
Crusading charity Reprieve has offered its support to the death row grandmother, while pointing out obvious inconsistencies in the case against Sandiford. According to Reprieve’s Harriet McCulloch, “She is clearly not a drug king pin – she has no money to pay for a lawyer, for the travel costs of defence witnesses or even for essentials like food and water. She has cooperated fully with the Indonesian authorities but has been sentenced to death while the gang operating in the UK, Thailand and Indonesia remain free to target other vulnerable people.”
Nevertheless, the countdown to Sandiford’s execution continues. Although there are still avenues of appeal, the highest authority in the land – President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono – has made it clear that he opposes interfering with Indonesian justice. Since 2004, only four condemned prisoners have received a presidential reprieve, and in 2011 Yudhoyono publicly declared that “I turn down almost all requests of pardon and acquittal from the death sentence. It is for the sake of justice.”
So Lindsay Sandiford will probably die, alone except for a dozen strangers with rifles. And the people of Bali will know that they have made their island a more secure and desirable place to visit. Won’t they?