March 6, 2015 / 12:52 AM / 3 years ago

Australia complains over Indonesia's treatment of death row prisoners

Australians Andrew Chan (L) and Myuran Sukumaran wait in a temporary cell for their appeal hearing in Denpasar District Court in Indonesia's resort island of Bali in this September 21, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Murdani Usman/Files

SYDNEY/JAKARTA (Reuters) - Australia has complained about the treatment of two drug smugglers, who face execution in Indonesia, and wants to lodge a formal protest after a smiling Indonesian police chief was photographed posing with the men, officials said on Friday.

The planned executions of Myuran Sukumaran, 33, and Andrew Chan, 31, have ramped up diplomatic tension between Australia and Indonesia after repeated pleas for mercy on their behalf. They are among a group of up to 11 convicts, mostly foreigners, due to be executed on the prison island of Nusakambangan.

The pair were moved from their prison in Bali on Wednesday, shackled and under heavy guard and taken by armored vehicle, first to board a flight to Java and then a short ferry ride to the island.

Photos of a senior police officer posing with the two men on board the flight to Java, surrounded by balaclava-clad security officers, provoked outrage in Australia.

“DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) have spoken with the Indonesian ambassador and lodged a complaint about the treatment - it’s not just the photographs, it’s the overall treatment of the two boys,” a spokeswoman for Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said.

“The foreign minister will be seeking to meet with the Indonesian ambassador,” she said. No time for the meeting had been set.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said the government had taken note of Australia’s most recent complaint and did not want to damage the relationship with “our friends”.

“We understand the request because it’s part of every government’s effort to protect their nationals,” she told reporters.

“However, once again, this is an issue of the sovereignty of law of another country. Please also respect that.”

SWAP PLAN REJECTED

On Thursday, Indonesia rejected a proposal from Bishop for a prisoner swap made in an 11th hour effort to save the lives of Chan and Sukumaran, saying there was no legal basis.

Australia does not have the death penalty and a recent survey by the Sydney-based Lowy Institute think tank showed nearly two-thirds of the public disapproved of the executions.

Indonesia is expected to decide on the date for the executions in a few days.

“We need to take note that there are legal processes currently being carried out, there are technical matters we need to prepare,” attorney general spokesman Tony Spontana told reporters.

“We will check one by one, so when the time comes to carry out (the executions) everything is clear and there are no problems later.”

He said the executions would not take place this week.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has adopted a tough stance against drug traffickers and others on death row, denying clemency appeals. Executions resumed in 2013 after a five-year gap and nationals from Brazil, Malawi, the Netherlands, Nigeria and Vietnam have been among those put in front of a firing squad.

Chan and Sukumaran were convicted in 2005 as the ringleaders of the so-called Bali Nine, who were arrested at the holiday island’s main airport for trying to smuggle 8 kg (18 lb) of heroin to Australia.

The seven other members of the gang, all Australians, have been jailed in Indonesia.

Australian has stressed that Chan and Sukumaran have been rehabilitated in prison, where they have mentored younger inmates, and has warned of potential political repercussions if the executions go ahead.

The pair have made numerous appeals against their sentences. One of those, which challenges Widodo’s refusal of clemency, is still outstanding.

Also facing execution in the coming days are citizens of France, Brazil, the Philippines, Ghana and Nigeria, as well as Indonesia. A Filipino death row convict has yet to be transferred to Nusakambangan due to ongoing legal challenges.

Additional reporting by Fergus Jensen in JAKARTA; Editing by Paul Tait

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