Bali Nine delay on sentence applications

BALI NINE: The Bali Nine drug smugglers.
BALI NINE: The Bali Nine drug smugglers.

Four of the Bali Nine are confronting months of uncertainty as Indonesian authorities delay indefinitely a decision on the drug smugglers' applications to reduce their life sentences.

The four, all of whom are serving life terms without a release date, have applied three times to have their sentences cut to 20 years. But they have been told recently that the Indonesian corrections office may not make a decision until next August because of a "backlog of applications".

One of the four, Martin Stephens, told Fairfax Media he would be "upset if the bad relations between Australia and Indonesia was affecting my case".

Stephens, Matthew Norman, Si Yi Chen and Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen all applied last May for the sentence reduction which, in the Indonesian system, is usually a straightforward process. Prison authorities at both the Kerobokan prison and provincial bureaucrats in Bali found in their favour, but the four were disappointed last August when they were not granted the reduction.

There was no explanation at the time, and they have been waiting since then for concrete news. The Australian consulate has recently told them that the application had not been rejected, but that the corrections office had been "overwhelmed by applications and had not got around to processing them".

The decision is likely to be made next August - a year after the four had expected it - with no certainty that the sentence reduction would be granted.

Stephens expressed his frustration, telling Fairfax Media "we need something to look to the future with, something to give us hope".

"I'm married but ... I've got to have more than just family to live for, to survive in this place. I need a release date ... I've been here for [almost] 10 years. What have I got to live for? To look forward to? What's the point of anything?"

Stephens, Norman, Nguyen and Chen first applied in 2011, but their bids were stopped with all other remission requests because of a riot at Kerobokan in January 2012. Their second application was rejected because of a new central government regulation that threw all drug cases into doubt. The third application has now also been delayed indefinitely.

As well as expressions of remorse and willingness to cooperate with authorities, the applications include letters showing support from family members, prison guards and other prison officials.

If the sentence reduction application is successful, the new sentences will be 20 years. With the almost nine years they have already spent in Kerobokan prison taken into account, they would have only 11 years left to serve. 

Remissions for good behaviour - which in Indonesia are handed out twice a year - could reduce this further so that their likely release date would be 2021 or 2022.

The Bali Nine were convicted in 2005 of attempting to traffic 8.3 kilograms of heroin from Bali to Australia. Two of them, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, still face death sentences and have appealed to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for clemency.

There is fear that the current bad state of the relationship between Australia and Indonesia may also affect the death row clemency applications.

Renae Lawrence is serving a 20 year sentence. Even though she was moved out of Kerobokan recently after being accused of plotting to kill a guard at Kerobokan, prison authorities have recommended she receive two months' sentence remission in December. 

The others Bali Nine members are also serving life. Michael Czugaj is appealing his sentence, and Scott Rush has exhausted his appeals, and has not yet lodged a bid for sentence remission.

Sydney Morning Herald