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Carnival of capital punishment for Bali Nine

By Duncan Graham - posted Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The posters were the giveaway.  Professionally produced with near perfect English, some almost works of art, showing Tony Abbott sprouting horns above the caption: ‘Go to hell Abbott with your druggies’.

These were no slogans scribbled on torn cardboard by outraged citizens spontaneously reacting to real slights.  This was the Indonesian standard rent-a-mob shouting outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in late February, probably for a feed and a Rp 50,000 [AUD 5] note.

Who was behind this choreographed display? ‘Dark forces’ is the usual Indonesian response, meaning anyone from a political party, the army, and the police through to an individual with a gripe and the cash.  Some protestors claimed to be Pemuda Muhammadiyah, young members of the second largest Islamic organisation in the nation.


Despite this faux anger there’s no doubt that Australia is genuinely on the nose as the execution of the Bali Nine masterminds Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran swirls closer and the comments from Australia get shriller.

Tony Abbott linking the 2004 tsunami aid with a plea for mercy was so counterproductive and stupid it begs the question: Who is advising the PM on handling relations with Indonesia?

If Jakarta diplomats then they need to squeeze out of their fortress, ride busses, wander markets and mingle with the crowds to hear the public voice.  If it’s Foreign Affairs and Trade staffers they should be buttonholing academics who know Indonesia and are almost in despair at the way everything is turning to custard.

All this could have been foreseen and contingency plans prepared.  Ideally we should have been advancing abolition of the death penalty world-wide long before two of our citizens shuffled to the head of the queue in the nation next door.

Australia is not the only one at fault.

Indonesia has turned the upcoming executions into a circus of nationalism, the chance to bore it up the West and show who’s really in charge.  The ‘go to hell’ slogan is significant because it was used by first President Soekarno in the 1950s when he nationalised Western companies and ordered expats out of the country.


Despite Indonesia declaring independence 70 years ago this August the ghost of colonialism lingers, an insecurity not encountered in Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore.

The police are also keen to party.  They’ve staged a ghoulish public dress rehearsal in Bali demonstrating how the condemned men will be dragged away to their deaths on the prison island of Nusakambangan.

Pictures of hungry coffins and animated enactments of the execution have fed the media.  It’s not quite the excesses of the French Revolution – but it’s certainly getting close.

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About the Author

Duncan Graham is a Perth journalist who now lives in Indonesia in winter and New Zealand in summer. He is the author of The People Next Door (University of Western Australia Press) and Doing Business Next Door (Wordstars). He blogs atIndonesia Now.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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