An Oceania Update: Indonesia executes eight, world appalled

The story dominating the airwaves in Australia right now is the news that two of its citizens, along with six others, have been executed for drug offences in Indonesia. The men were executed in spite of a variety of appeals, clemency pleas, and interventions by families and heads of state. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot responded by withdrawing Australia’s Indonesian ambassador, having described the executions as ‘cruel and unnecessary’ due to the pair having become ‘fully rehabilitated’ during their spell in Kerobokan Prison. This claim was backed up by the prison governor, who was calling them ‘model prisoners’ as early as 2010 and was in favour of the commutation of their sentences. Chan had found God and desired to become a pastor, while Sukumaran ran a variety of teaching programs for his fellow inmates. The examples of these two men should be held up as evidence to show the power of prison rehabilitation. They had orchestrated a drug trafficking operation for their own selfishness but had turned their life around in prison.

Chan and Sukumaran

There are also reports suggesting that Indonesia’s relationship with Brazil, the country of another one of the executed prisoners, is set to deteriorate. Rodrigo Guarte was a twice-diagnosed schizophrenic described as unfit to stand trial, but was still executed along with the other seven, and a personal plea from Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to Indonesian President Joko Widodo was not enough to pardon him.

This case throws up a number of questions about the concept of the death penalty and the role of prisons. Should prisons focus on punishment over rehabilitation? Should rehabilitated death row prisoners still be executed? Should those with mental health issues be executed? For now, all that can be said is that Indonesia should expect considerable backlash from the world’s media and, more crucially, from the allies it has alienated with these executions.

In Australia, Tony Abbot recently announced that parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated will have a welfare cut of up to $15,000. The current laws allowing for ‘personal, philosophical or religious’ exceptions have been tightened significantly, in an area where groups such as Christian Scientists had been able to ‘get childcare benefits and not vaccinate their kids’. The tightening of these exceptions brings this part of Australian medical law more in line with other aspects. This is, of course, a country that showed no qualms in ordering a 17-year-old Jehovah’s witness to undergo a life saving blood transfusion against his wishes in 2013. Australia will no longer bow to religious groups on medical issues.

Criticism has come from some corners, who talk about the ‘ripping away of citizens’ right to choose’. Generally, allowing people to make their own choices about how they live their lives is indicative of a good liberal society. The difference here of course is that this isn’t just about how an adult lives their life… it’s about the health of children. People who don’t get to consent for themselves. And these are infectious diseases too. What else is a hallmark of a good liberal society? One that knows the flaws in its preferred ideology and does something about them.

In older news, Fiji announced plans to remove the Union Jack from its national flag, so that the nation could feature a design that symbolises the new, independent state, and not its history as a British colony. This would not be without precedent, as a variety of nations, including Ghana, Nigeria, Jamaica and Canada have all done the same thing. On top of this, there is ongoing discussion in Australia along similar lines. Fiji’s move comes after having removed Queen Elizabeth’s head from its currency in 2011, when Prime Minister Rabuka suggested that Fiji has ‘forgotten’ its colonial past and was ‘looking forward’, though aware that history could not be ‘erased’.

Fiji’s current flag, complete with Union Jack

While some cry of disrespect to Britain, they ignore the fact that Fiji remains part of the Commonwealth of Nations, albeit one that had been, until recently, suspended for 8 straight years. As well as this, Fijian soldiers also serve in the British army, and islanders are described as fervent anglophiles. Others suggest that this is an undemocratic power-grabbing attempt by President Bainimarama, who seized power in a coup, but in this case he has opened a public consultation on a new flag’s design.

Fundamentally, Fiji is an independent state and surely deserves the right to its own national identity, something a flag can be a major symbol of, with as much or as little reference to its colonial past as it and its citizens desire. [Detail on Vaccination Policy] Quotes on Executions] [Fiji Flag Change] [Repercussions of Indonesian Executions] [Endorsement of Australian pair] [Opposiiton to Abbot’s Vaccination Policy] [Sukumaran’s teaching] [Chan’s faith] [Teenager forced to have a blood transfusion]


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