Wednesday 22 November 2017

Bali Nine: 'The whole place was very upset' - Irish priest describes death row inmates' final moments

People hold candles to pray for death-row prisoners at Wijayapura port in Cilacap, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)
People hold candles to pray for death-row prisoners at Wijayapura port in Cilacap, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that Australia will withdraw its ambassador from Jakarta in response to the still unconfirmed executions of two Australians, Myuran Sukumaran, 33, and Andrew Chan, 31. (Lukas Coch/AAP Image via AP)
Australian Andrew Chan
Australians Myuran Sukumaran (L) and Andrew Chan (R), the two ringleaders of the "Bali Nine" drug ring, being escorted out of a court after their verdict in Denpasar on Bali island. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
A police Barracuda vehicle arrives to transfer Bali Nine duo Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran to the execution island Nusukamban where they will await their fate. Photo: Agung Parameswara/Getty Images
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

An Irish priest has told of the despair in the hours before eight people were executed in Indonesia for drugs-smuggling charges.

Father Charlie Burrows described how a woman set to be executed was forced to say goodbye to her two young sons hours earlier than expected.

Filipino woman Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso, who was later granted a stay of execution while the Philippines investigates her case, was shocked when she was told to say goodbye to her sons earlier than expected, a priest has told.

The Irish-born priest, who spoke and prayed with the inmates before their executions, said the 'biggest problem' of the day was the inmates' final goodbye to their families.

"The biggest problem of the day is they usually get to talk to the families about 4pm but, because of the executions, they announced at 2pm that we had to go home.

"Mary Jane and her family were there, she has two little boys, she was crying and saying, 'I just want to see these for the last time'.

"The whole place was very upset."

The priest also said Brazilian inmate, Rodrigo Gularte, 42, had received a letter from the professor of psychiatry in the biggest university in Indonesia declaring he suffered from mental illness, but his execution went ahead as planned.

Australian Andrew Chan
Australian Andrew Chan

"They were trying very hard to get him off, he was suffering from paranoia and bipolar disorder," Fr Burrows told RTE Radio One's Morning Ireland.

"I was with the families for the last three days and meeting them.

Australians Myuran Sukumaran (L) and Andrew Chan (R), the two ringleaders of the
Australians Myuran Sukumaran (L) and Andrew Chan (R), the two ringleaders of the "Bali Nine" drug ring, being escorted out of a court after their verdict in Denpasar on Bali island. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

"Yesterday morning Rodrigo explained to us what it felt like to be hearing voices, last night he was just explaining and opening up on what it's like to have the illness.

"All the time he was sobbing, we talked for an hour and a half, trying to prepare him for the execution," he continued.

"I'm 72 years old and I said I'll be in heaven in the near future. Go find my house and get my garden ready for me.

"They took him out of the cell and went out to the front place in the car, then they put these bloody chains on him and he asked was he going to be executed.

"I said I thought I'd explained that. He didn't get excited, he's a quiet guy, he said this is not right.

"He thought there was a sniper outside waiting to shoot him, I had to explain that there wasn't."

Yesterday, Indonesia brushed aside last-minute appeals and executed eight people convicted of drug smuggling.

Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo confirmed hours after the deaths had been widely reported that each of the eight had been executed simultaneously at 12.35am local time by a 13-member firing squad.

Medical teams confirmed their deaths three minutes later, he said.

"The executions have been successfully implemented, perfectly," Mr Prasetyo said.

Two Australians, four Nigerians, a Brazilian and an Indonesian man were executed.

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott announced that Australia will withdraw its ambassador from Jakarta in response to the executions of two of its citizens, Myuran Sukumaran, 33, and Andrew Chan, 31.

"These executions are both cruel and unnecessary," Mr Abbott said.

He said it was cruel because Chan and Sukumaran had spent a decade in jail before being executed and "unnecessary because both of these young Australians were fully rehabilitated while in prison".

Brazil's president Dilma Rousseff said the execution of a second Brazilian citizen in Indonesia this year "marks a serious event in the relations between the two countries".

Mr Prasetyo dismissed concerns that Indonesia had done long-term damage to foreign relations through the executions.

"It's just a momentary reaction," he said. "What we're doing is carrying out court decisions."

He said the message was "do not try to smuggle drugs in Indonesia, because we will be harsh and firm against drug-related crimes".

Michael Chan, brother of Andrew Chan, who became a Christian pastor during his decade in prison and married an Indonesian woman on Monday, reacted with anger.

"I have just lost a courageous brother to a flawed Indonesian legal system. I miss you already RIP my Little Brother," he tweeted.

The Sukumaran and Chan families, said: "In the 10 years since they were arrested, they did all they could to make amends, helping many others. They asked for mercy, but there was none."

Mary Jane Veloso's mother, Celia, said the stay of execution for her daughter was nothing short of a miracle.

Presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma thanked Indonesian president Joko "Jokowi" Widodo for giving due consideration to the appeal of his Philippine counterpart, Benigno Aquino III.

He said the reprieve provides an opportunity for her testimony to expose how a criminal syndicate duped her into being an unwitting accomplice and courier in drug trafficking.

There were cheers from the more than 250 Veloso supporters who held a candlelight vigil outside the Indonesian Embassy in Manila.

Veloso, 30, was arrested in 2010 at the airport in the central Indonesian city of Yogyakarta, where officials discovered about 5.5lbs of heroin hidden in her luggage.

Mr Prasetyo said Veloso was granted a stay of execution because her alleged boss has been arrested in the Philippines, and the authorities there requested Indonesian assistance in pursuing the case.

"This delay did not cancel the execution. We just want to give a chance in relation with the legal process in the Philippines," he said.

The woman who allegedly recruited Veloso to work in Kuala Lumpur, Maria Kristina Sergio, surrendered to police in the Philippines on Monday, Deputy Police Director-General Leonardo Espina said.

Originally, 10 inmates were to be executed, but Frenchman Serge Atlaoui was excluded because he still had an outstanding court appeal against Mr Jokowi's rejection of his clemency application.

The government says Atlaoui will face a firing squad alone if his appeal is rejected by the Administrative Court.

Mr Jokowi's predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, cancelled a trip to Australia this week because of growing anger over the executions.

He was to give a speech at the University of Western Australian in Perth on Friday on Australia's diplomatic and economic relationships with its Asia-Pacific neighbours, including Indonesia.

Press Association

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