As one Australian tastes his new found freedom, after 400 days in Egyptian captivity, two other Australians await a more serious fate in an Indonesian prison.

A candlelight vigil was held in Sydney last week, for convicted drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran and the national response was divided. Hundreds attended the Martin Place event and even amongst them there was a mixture of anger and sorrow towards the pair.

Much has been made of the ‘what if?’ questions in the case. What if they had not been caught, wouldn’t they have continued dealing? What if the 8.3kgs of heroin had been smuggled into Australia and then found its way onto our streets? That would have caused enormous damage, destroyed families and financed even more drug deals. Surely they knew the penalties for drug smuggling in Asia, doesn’t everyone? How could they be so stupid?

The penalties for drug smuggling in South East Asia are well known
The penalties for drug smuggling in South East Asia are well known

All of these questions are inconsequential to where the pair sits now. Not only are they inconsequential, they are unhelpful and distracting.

Opposition to the death penalty should be unanimous and unambiguous. Whether the case is of an innocent person wrongly convicted or a mass killer, child rapist, wife killer or terrorist, the strongest opposition to the death penalty should be employed, always. While those who are wrongly convicted have an additional cause to fight for, the cases of the guilty should also be used to oppose what is essentially, premeditated, cold blooded, state sanctioned murder. If opposition to the death penalty wavers or is distracted, dependent upon the personalities, sensitivities and hypothetical’s of a particular case, it erodes the entire opposition to it.

Some may find it difficult to light a candle for Chan and Sukumaran, a pair of convicted drug smugglers, whose intent was to profit from the addiction and misery of others. However it should not be difficult to light a candle and stand in solidarity against the death penalty, using their case as an example. This perhaps should have been the better articulated message of the Sydney vigil. The trembling plea of Sukumaran’s grandmother should remind us that, while certainly no angel, his execution would leave a void in the lives of many innocents.

The stories of rehabilitation also matter not, when considering whether execution should occur. Sukumaran has apparently reformed and discovered a talent for painting, while Chan has found God. If the pair remained unremorseful, after their decade in prison, it would similarly have no bearing on whether or not they should be executed. As it stands, remorseful and pious, or if it were otherwise, the pair will spend the rest of their lives in prison. How long that time will be is now the only consideration.

Myuran Sukumaran with some of his paintings
Myuran Sukumaran with some of his paintings

Chan and Sukumaran are no longer a threat to Indonesian or Australian society. Their incarceration alone ensures this, regardless of their rehabilitation. Their deaths will not make the world any safer, cleaner or brighter. On the contrary, execution would inflict a greater amount of heartache, upon their families, friends, supporters and humanity as a whole. There is also no evidence that their, or any other executions, serve any measurable deterrent. Their deaths would be nothing but an act of vengeance.

The death penalty was eradicated from Australia almost fifty years ago, with dozens of other countries (at a rate of about 2 per year) and several US states following suit in the decades since. One doesn’t have to like Chan or Sukumaran, pity them or even feel sorry for them, but execution by firing squad, with a bullet striking their hearts, would not be a just or civilised outcome for the pair and we should oppose it no matter what.

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