April 26, 2015 / 12:48 PM / 2 years ago

Pleas for mercy rain on Indonesia's president as executions near

A woman protester holds a placard calling for the life of Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipino facing execution, to be saved during a protest in Cilacap, Central Java province, Indonesia, April 26, 2015. REUTERS/Beawiharta

CILACAP, Indonesia (Reuters) - Relatives of several convicts on death row in Indonesia made emotional last-ditch appeals for mercy on Sunday, adding their voices to foreign governments and the head of the United Nations who called for the group of nine to be spared the firing squad.

Indonesia this weekend informed the group of drug-crime convicts, which includes nationals from Brazil, Ghana, Nigeria, the Philippines and Australia, that they would be executed in a matter of days, possibly as soon as Tuesday.

The appeals for clemency were directed at President Joko Widodo, whose determination to deal harshly with drug crimes has won popular support at home. The Southeast Asian country resumed executions in 2013 after a five-year gap and six convicts have gone before a firing squad so far this year.

However, Widodo’s tough stance has brought international criticism and has strained relations with several countries, particularly neighbor Australia.

“There are nine people with families that love them ... so we ask the president to use his powers to intervene and save their lives,” Chintu Sukumaran told reporters after visiting his Australian brother, Myuran, at a high-security jail on Nusakambangan Island in central Java.

He said Widodo should show the same mercy that he had sought from other countries where Indonesians had faced execution.

Sukumaran and fellow Australian Andrew Chan, who was also sentenced to death, were the ringleaders of the so-called ‘Bali Nine’ who were arrested in 2005 on the resort island of Bali for trying to smuggle out 8 kg (18 lb) of heroin. The other members of the gang, all Australians, have been jailed in Indonesia.

DIPLOMATIC PRESSURE

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Widodo on Saturday not to execute the prisoners and called on him to “urgently consider declaring a moratorium on capital punishment in Indonesia, with a view toward abolition”.

“Under international law, if the death penalty is to be used at all, it should only be imposed for the most serious crimes, namely those involving intentional killing, and only with appropriate safeguards,” Ban’s spokesman said in a statement.

Keeping up the diplomatic pressure, Philippine President Benigno Aquino told reporters he planned to appeal to Widodo during a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders in Kuala Lumpur to spare Filipina Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso, a mother of two.

Veloso, who says she was wrongly convicted after being set up by a recruitment agency, handed Philippine government officials who visited her on Sunday handwritten letters insisting that she was innocent.

The Indonesian Migrant Workers Network plans to hold a candle-lit vigil outside the presidential palace in Jakarta from Sunday, demanding Widodo protect Indonesian migrant workers from the death penalty abroad and to grant clemency to Veloso.

Vigils are also expected to be held near the Indonesian consulates in Sydney and Melbourne, while Amnesty International plans to draw attention to the issue with a message written in thousands of flowers not far from Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The Jakarta-based human rights group Imparsial criticized Widodo’s use of the death penalty despite his election pledge last year to improve the human rights situation in Indonesia.

“The Indonesian government will have a hard time as it will be regarded a country that adopts capital punishment. This is a paradox and is inconsistent with support for human rights,” Imparsial Director Al Araf told reporters.

Widodo rebuffed questions about the pleas and warnings of diplomatic repercussions as he headed to Kuala Lumpur on Sunday.

“I have already said repeatedly I will not discuss this again,” he told reporters.

(This story removes France from second paragraph and corrects location of Nusakambangan Island to central Java in fifth paragraph)

Additional reporting by Chris Nusatya in JAKARTA, Angie Teo in KUALA LUMPUR, Chris McCall in SYDNEY; Writing by Fergus Jensen; Editing by John Chalmers and Gareth Jones

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