Indonesia spares condemned woman for now but executes 8 men

Despite pleas from around the world, Indonesia executes eight men on drug crimes but spares a female prisoner

Ignoring international pressure and heart-wrenching last-minute family pleas for clemency, Indonesia executed eight men on drug charges early Wednesday, local news media reported.

However, authorities spared for now a female prisoner from the Philippines who had been scheduled to die.

The Indonesians brushed off the frantic last-ditch efforts by lawyers, diplomats and government officials to halt the executions by firing squad of seven foreigners and a local man.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott withdrew Australia's ambassador, describing the executions of the two Australians as cruel and unnecessary.

"We do deplore what's been done and this cannot be simply business as usual," he said, calling it a "dark moment" in relations between the two neighbors.

Indonesian Atty. Gen. Muhammad Prasetyo confirmed the executions had been carried out.

"The executions have been successfully implemented, perfectly. All worked, no misses."

Indonesian news media cited unnamed officials, and Amnesty International said it had received confirmation of the executions. The Brazilian Foreign Ministry said its citizen among the condemned had been put to death.

The European Union and governments of France and Australia had urged President Joko Widodo on Tuesday to halt the proceedings. “It is not too late to change your mind,” they said in a statement. "Forgiveness and rehabilitation are fundamental to the Indonesian judicial system as well as in our system.”

The prisoners, clad in special white suits, were tied to poles in the darkness in a jungle location on Nusakambangan Island after midnight and were then shot.

A spokesman for Indonesia's attorney general confirmed that one of the prisoners, Mary Jane Veloso, had been granted a temporary stay of execution to allow her to testify at a trial in the Philippines.

“The execution of Mary Jane has been postponed due to the request of the Philippines president in relation to an alleged human trafficker who recently gave herself up in the Philippines,” the spokesman, Tony Spontana, told reporters.

The delay was to allow testimony at the trial of Maria Kristina Sergio, who is accused of having lured Veloso into unknowingly smuggling heroin into Indonesia.

Veloso claimed she was going there for work and was given a suitcase. Although it seemed heavy, she said, she checked inside and found nothing.

Todung Mulya Lubis, a lawyer for the two Australian prisoners put to death, issued a statement on Twitter mourning their passing.

"I failed. I lost," he tweeted. In a later tweet he added: "I'm sorry."

On Tuesday afternoon, before Veloso received a stay of execution, family members met with the nine condemned prisoners and later made heart-wrenching pleas to Joko to spare their lives.

"I saw today something that no other family should ever have to go through,” Michael Chan of Australia, the brother of Andrew Chan, told journalists after saying farewell to his brother in prison. “Nine families inside a prison saying goodbye to their loved ones. Kids, mothers, brothers, cousins, sisters, you name it, they were all there. To walk out of there and say goodbye for the last time, it's torture."

"There has to be a moratorium on the death penalty," he added.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the “ghastly process” endured by the families of the condemned Australians underscored how chaotic the lead-up to the executions had been.

“They do deserve respect and they do deserve to have dignity shown to them at this time of unspeakable grief, but that doesn’t seem to have been extended to them at this time,” Bishop said on Australian television shortly before the executions.

Earlier Tuesday, Australian Atty. Gen. George Brandis called on Indonesia to halt the executions while legal proceedings relevant to the cases of Chan and and countryman Myuran Sukumaran were continuing, including allegations that judges in their trial demanded a bribe for a sentence of less than 20 years.

"These proceedings raise serious questions regarding the integrity of the two men's initial sentence and the clemency process,” Brandis said in a statement Tuesday. “It is important that these actions are heard in full before any further steps are taken.”

Sukumaran’s mother, Raji, and sister Brintha wept uncontrollably as they begged for clemency after saying farewell to him in Besi prison.

"I just had to say goodbye to my son and I won't see him again," the mother told reporters between sobs. "Please, Mr. President, please don't kill my son. Please don't."

Supporters held candlelight vigils and circulated online petitions calling for mercy. They said the prisoners included a pastor, a painter, a gospel singer, a dollar-a-day laborer and a man suffering from mental illness.

Chan was recently ordained as a pastor in prison. Sukumaran took up painting in jail and gave art lessons. The two men have admitted their guilt to the drug charges and expressed remorse. Their supporters say both have been rehabilitated in their 10 years of incarceration.

Nigerian gospel singer Okwudili Oyatanze recorded songs in prison, including one called “God Bless Indonesia.”

Lawyers for Rodrigo Gularte, a Brazilian, argued that he should be spared because he suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder -- and under Indonesian law, those with mental illnesses shouldn’t face prosecution.

The only Indonesian in the group, Zainal Abidin, was a laborer in a furniture factory earning a dollar a day when an acquaintance arrived at his home late at night with three sacks that he said contained rice. Police raided his house and it turned out the bags contained marijuana. Abidin insists he didn’t know his friend had the drugs.

Three other Nigerians -- Martin Anderson, Jamiu Owolabi Abashin and Sylvester Obiekwe Nwolise -- were also executed.

Lawyers and relatives of the two Australians displayed a painting Tuesday just completed by Sukumaran that depicted a human heart, a reference to the spot on the body for which the firing squad would aim. The nine prisoners facing death had all signed the back of the painting, which bore the words, “One heart, one feeling in love.”

Veloso, the Filipina, wrote that Jesus would “always love us” and added the words “keep smile” beneath her signature. Nwolise wrote that he was “covered with the blood of Jesus Christ.”

Before she was spared, Veloso’s family conveyed the messages she left for her two sons, ages 6 and 12, to not fight and that she would be with them in spirit, according to Philippine media.

“Love each other, don't fight. Your father has another wife and I will be gone. If you are rowdy, I will pinch you. If you feel anything cold, that's me,” the message went, according to her mother, Celia Veloso.

Indonesia has this year seen a sharp increase in executions for drug crimes under President Joko, who has declared that the country is suffering from a drug emergency, and in recent months has rejected all clemency bids by drug offenders.

In January, Indonesia executed five foreigners and one Indonesian for drug offenses, including the citizens of Vietnam, Malawi, Nigeria, Brazil and the Netherlands, sparking international condemnation.

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10:04 p.m.: This article has been updated with confirmation from Indonesian Atty. Gen. Muhammad Prasetyo and Australia's decision to remove its ambassador. 

1:45 p.m.: This article has been updated with confirmation from Amnesty International and the Brazilian Foreign Ministry.

12:15 p.m.: This article has been updated with statements from a spokesman for the Indonesia attorney general and from a lawyer for the Australian prisoners.

10:50 a.m.: This article was updated with the execution of eight of the nine prisoners.

The article was originally published at 7:10 a.m.