Vale Chan and Sukumaran


The execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran is a crime that goes above and beyond the crime they were being punished for. Ten years of gaol, followed by death at the hands of a firing squad in the middle of the night.

In Catholicism, Purgatory is an intermediate stage between death and eternal life, reserved for those who have died gracefully but have not achieved a status of holiness enough to pass into heaven. In Judaism ‘Gehenna’ is pretty similar – a valley where the souls of the wicked spend a maximum of one year to atone for their sins.

Different denominations interpret purgatory differently, but its function remains the same: to cleanse the souls of those made in God’s image; to transform back into righteousness and grace from a brief state of imperfection.

Given how old these books are, these executions beg a comparison be made. How far have we humans come?

In 2015 we take justice into our own hands, putting paedophiles and rapists and drug mules and thieves into varying incarnations of purgatory – two month sentences for the bloke who beats his wife to a pulp in a drunken stupor, maybe a couple of years for the boys school teacher who fiddled with 13-year-olds….

The objective of the incarceration – of living purgatory – is to most of us absolutely bizarre. The idea of putting the most anti-social members of society together in a building and waiting for them to improve on their social consciousness seems a stretch.

Alternatively one could also take a more realistic approach to incarceration, and interpret its function as deliberately punitive, or possibly to see a practical purpose to removing the few bad seeds from the patch for the benefit of the many.

Whichever way you look at it, Indonesia actually played a part in reforming two drug-smugglers. They breathed the life of a painter into a locked up criminal. Myuran Sukumaran taught self-expression to those expressionless many locked up with him. Andrew Chan became outspoken against drugs altogether. The pair ran drug counselling sessions and sought comfort in spirituality.

Say what you will about the old testament. Our boys’ stint in purgatory ended with them being dragged off to hell, after 10 years, anyway.

Sudjonggo, the governor of the Balinese Kerobokan prison, described them as model prisoners who should not be executed.

His president, Joko Widodo, had the opportunity to give the men clemency.

He chose instead to use their lives to make a political point that deserves absolutely no explanation.

For that reason, I say vale Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. As your hearts go cold in coffins on foreign soil, ours are with your families.

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