• Death-row convicts refused blindfolds

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    CILACAP, Indonesia: The seven condemned foreigners reportedly all refused blindfolds and sang hymns, among them “Amazing Grace,” as they went to face the firing squad in a jungle clearing, according to a pastor who was with them.

    The seven convicts–two from Australia, one from Brazil and four from Africa–were shot by firing squad along with one Indonesian, despite strident foreign appeals and pleas from family members.

    Mary Jane Veloso, the Filipina originally set to be executed, was given an 11th hour reprieve after a woman who allegedly duped her into ferrying drugs to Indonesia came forward to police in the Philippines.

    But Indonesian Attorney-General Muhammad Prasetyo stressed it was only a “postponement” to allow time for police investigations.

    As the clock ticked down to midnight, a group of tearful supporters also sang hymns, embraced and held candles aloft during a vigil at the port in Cilacap, the gateway to the prison island of Nusakambangan.

    After the executions, family members could be seen crying as they were ushered away by friends and supporters, an Agence France-Presse reporter saw.

    Indonesia on Wednesday staunchly defended its execution of the seven foreigners as a vital front of its “war” on drugs.

    “I would like to say that an execution is not a pleasant thing. It is not a fun job,” Prasetyo told reporters in Cilacap.

    “But we must do it in order to save the nation from the danger of drugs. We are not making enemies of countries from where those executed came. What we are fighting against [are]drug-related crimes.”

    “They asked for mercy, there was none,” he said.

    Australia withdrew its ambassador in protest at the midnight executions but Indonesian President Joko Widodo said he was merely applying “the rule of law” against narcotics traffickers.

    Brazil expressed “deep regret” at the execution of its citizen, who is mentally ill according to his family, and said it was weighing its next move.

    Prasetyo played down Australia’s decision to recall its ambassador, describing it as a “temporary reaction,” while Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi noted Jakarta’s desire to “continue having good relations” with one of its most important trading partners.

    Australia had mounted a sustained campaign to save its citizens, who have been on death row for almost a decade, and Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the executions were “both cruel and unnecessary.”

    “We respect Indonesia’s sovereignty but we do deplore what’s been done and this cannot be simply business as usual,” Abbott added, announcing Australia’s unprecedented step of recalling its Jakarta ambassador.

    Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, ringleaders of the so-called “Bali Nine” heroin trafficking gang, were described by Canberra as reformed men after years in prison.

    The families said their sons did “all they could to make amends, helping many others” in the years since their arrests, with Sukumaran teaching fellow inmates English and art, and Chan ordained as a minister in February.

    “They asked for mercy, but there was none. They were immensely grateful for all the support they received. We, too, will be forever grateful,” the families said in a joint statement.

    Widodo, who took office in October, says Indonesia is facing an emergency because of rising drugs use, citing figures from the national anti-narcotics agency showing that more than 30 Indonesians die every day from drug use.

    Some academics, however, believe that the agency’s data is flawed, while critics accuse Widodo of pursuing a populist policy in light of recent political problems.

    The bodies of Chan and Sukumaran, in plain wooden coffins, arrived in Jakarta after being driven from Cilacap in two ambulances. They were taken to a funeral home and will soon be flown back to Australia for burial.

    Little is known about the other four executed foreigners–three of them are from Nigeria but it is not clear whether the fourth held Ghanaian or Nigerian nationality.

    AFP

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