Judges on the paradise Indonesian island of Bali sentencing British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford to death on January 22 held that she had "tarnished the image of Bali as a holiday destination."
No one expected a death sentence because the prosecutor, recognizing the sympathetic circumstances of the case, had only asked for a 15-year prison sentence. Sandiford heard the gasps in the courtroom when the sentence was handed down but didn't realize what had happened because her interpreter only translated part of what was said. He filled in the gaps with "blah blah blah" as he had done at all of her hearings over the past few months.
It was only when a reporter asked her how she felt about her sentence that Sandiford found out what had happened and faced the terrifying prospect of death by firing squad. In the middle of the night, as tourists sleep or party, Sandiford will be dressed in white and taken to a remote beach on an island where she will be tied to a pole placed in the sand.
The firing squad of around 10 police from the elite paramilitary mobile brigade will have spent the days ahead of the execution practising using human-shaped targets. Sandiford will be hooded and a reflective marker will be placed over her chest to enable the shooters to see their target. The firing squad will take aim then shoot her through the heart from a meter away.
Death by firing squad is not fast or painless. A priest, Father Burrows, who witnessed the executions of two Nigerians convicted of trafficking heroin in 2008, said they moaned and gurgled for up to 10 minutes after being shot. He sang "Amazing Grace" to try to comfort them as they died.
I traveled to Indonesia a few years ago -- like many other tourists, I had long dreamed of seeing wild orangutans in the jungle near Medan. I had no idea that three people were executed by firing squad in that jungle in 2004. One was Ayodhya Prasad Chaubey, an Indian man shot in August.
Amnesty International has expressed concern that his trial may not have upheld international standards for fairness. Due to a lack of legal representation or access to interpretation services before the trial, he was unable to prepare an adequate defense.
Chaubey's lawyer raised concerns that the evidence against him (12 kilograms of heroin that he was convicted of trafficking) had not been presented in court.
Like Sandiford, Chaubey was interrogated by the police without a lawyer or an interpreter. His lawyers were only informed of his execution after he had already been shot in the jungle and he never got the chance to say goodbye to his family. That October, a Thai man and woman were executed. Both came from a poor neighborhood of Bangkok. The executions of these impoverished people have tarnished my memories of that holiday forever -- I will never think of the jungle without remembering that shots rang out there and people moaned in pain as they died.
Sandiford is extremely vulnerable. An independent expert on the drugs trade concluded that Sandiford's mental health problems would have made her an "attractive target" for the "threats, manipulation and coercion" of those who forced her into carrying the package by threatening her children.
Surely the judges in Sandiford's case must know that sentencing people to die by tying them to poles and killing them slowly in jungles or on Bali's white sand beaches does more to damage the reputation of Bali as a holiday destination than the actions of a terrified, vulnerable grandmother trying to protect her children.
It has to be hoped that this point will be considered.