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Rush case rekindles memories of past executions

Rush says he wants to become an ambassador against drugs. (AFP: Sonny Tumbelaka)
By Matt Brown for Correspondents Report

Bali Nine drug smuggler Scott Rush launched his last court appeal against the death penalty in Bali last week.

His argument rests on the fact he was not a major player in the ring and, therefore, does not deserve to die.

ABC Indonesia correspondent Matt Brown was in the court and found himself thinking about the lives he has seen lost and past court-ordered executions.

When I was in high school, it was Barlow and Chambers; in 1986 Charles John Barlow and Brian Geoffrey Chambers were the first Australians executed under tough anti-drug laws in Malaysia.

The campaign to save them was long and vigorous, the public debate about their fate, intense.

Then prime minister Bob Hawke called the killing "barbaric" and relations between Malaysia and Australia were strained for years.

For me and my high school friends, it all added up to a long-lasting lesson about the folly and grave danger of drug smuggling.

But times have changed.

As I watched Rush plead for his life in Bali last week, I was struck by the generation gap between us.

He was not even a year old when Barlow and Chambers were hanged.

I can think of only two similar cases since, and it is possible that the years in between have merely dulled my own senses, but it seems the media coverage and the public reactions have been less intense.

Now, young Australians have Rush's ordeal to consider.

If they follow the news, they'll know of his nightmares about how long it will take him to die after the firing squad guns him down.

They'll also know of the shame he feels and his sorrow at the pain he has caused his parents, who had to sit and watch him argue against his own death.

Rush says he wants to become an ambassador against drugs. It'll be up to the judges of the supreme court to decide if he'll get that chance.

But his predicament is already a warning to the vulnerable or reckless who'd think of taking a similar gamble. He looks unwell, his face pallid and puffy, his motions sometimes extremely slow.

He doesn't like taking questions from journalists, especially not when the cameras are pressed up against the bars of the holding cell, turning his incarceration into a pitiable spectacle of flashes and softball questions.

His most animated moment in court was when he told the judges: "I am a criminal, not a celebrity."

And yet at each phase of this process, interest in his fate will be intense.

His story has several features that make it especially interesting to journalists: there's his youth - he was just 19 when he was arrested - his inexperience and, of course, the fact that his worried father contacted a lawyer friend who called the police in a fruitless bid to stop him going to Bali in the first place.

And now he has a letter from the Australian Federal Police, in support of his appeal, stating he played only a minor role in the smuggling ring.

In light of Indonesian law and previous rulings, that's a crucial argument.

I have to confess that when I was preparing to come to Bali, I spoke to my mother. I told her I'd been a bit jaded by more than four years in the Middle East.

I'd seen people maimed and shredded and bloated bodies pulled for the rubble, and this human drama just didn't seem on the scale of those tragedies. My mother responded simply, saying: "It is a man's life, dear."

If he's successful, Rush's case will slip from the headlines, his years in jail will pass unnoticed by most.

Less attention has been focused on two other members of the smuggling ring: the organisers, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

When they were sentenced to death, the then prime minister John Howard commented: "The warnings have been there for decades and how on Earth any young Australian can be so stupid as to take the risk is completely beyond me."

Their lives still hang in the balance. Their appeals have also just begun and they have no letters from the AFP to bolster their bid to avoid the firing squad.

The people who supplied the heroin, let alone those who made it, haven't been caught.

Scott Rush's final appeal to resume
August 25, 2010 - AAP

Bali Nine drug mule Scott Rush's final appeal against his death sentence will resume on Thursday, after the case was delayed for a week due to administrative errors.

The Denpasar District Court began hearing the appeal, known as a judicial review, last Wednesday, but it was adjourned due to problems with the paperwork used to summons Rush to court.

The judicial review pushes for a 15-year sentence for Rush, who was one of nine Australians convicted over the 2005 attempt to smuggle more than eight kilograms of heroin from Bali to Australia.

It seeks to prove Rush was only a minor player in the plot, and relies heavily on letters from former Australian Federal Police (AFP) commissioner Mick Keelty and current deputy commissioner Michael Phelan that say Rush was just a courier, not an organiser.

Earlier this week, current AFP Commissioner Tony Negus said the organisation had provided the Indonesian courts with all the information it had about Rush's role in the plot.

"We have responded to requests to provide more information about the role individuals have played in this case," Mr Negus told reporters in Brisbane on Tuesday.

"... It is up to the Indonesian courts to make a determination but we are happy to provide what support we can to give them, the full range of material we have.

"We have said publicly before that we think Scott was somebody who had not been involved (in drug running) before and was asked to do a certain role and we think it's the first time he has been involved."

Outside the court last week, one of Rush's lawyers, Frans Hendra Winata, told AAP that when the judicial review resumed, the defence would ask for Rush's death sentence to be reduced to 15 years in jail.

However, they would also be satisfied if the judges reinstated Rush's original sentence of life in prison.

Rush, 24, did not appear in court last Wednesday. His lawyers explained that was because the head of Bali's Kerobokan Prison had not been authorised to bring him to court.

Another of his lawyers, Robert Khuana, asked the judges to order the head of prison to bring Rush to court for Thursday's hearing.

Rush was just 19 when he was arrested at Denpasar airport with more than a kilogram of heroin strapped to his body.

He was originally sentenced to life in prison before Indonesia's Supreme Court unexpectedly increased it to death.

If the final appeal fails, Rush's last chance of avoiding the firing squad will be to seek clemency from Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who typically shows no mercy to drug smugglers.

2010 AAP



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