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Mercy for Myuran and Andrew

A Letter to our Indonesian neighbours.

Dear Neighbours,

When I first saw television coverage of the group of young people since called “The Bali 9” I was horrified. As someone who has worked with young people in schools I was mindful of the terrible toll that illegal drugs takes on our society. Drugs destroy lives and even the whole family of the addicted ones. Parents and siblings are confronted with someone who is so changed by the illegal substance, it is as if some alien were residing in his or her skin. It is as though the loved one has been murdered and some other creature has taken their place. When I saw the two boys who were claimed to be the ringleaders of the 9, I saw two sullen, angry young men, frowning, eyes downcast, pushing violently against their captors, scarily unrepentent, and I thought “typical drug dealers” and put them out of my mind. They had been caught. Justice would be summarily dealt to them.

Then two weeks ago I saw the Australian current affairs program, “Four Corners.” It is almost ten years since Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were first incarcerated in Kerobokan Prison and I had coldly put them out of my mind. But what a change your gaol has wrought in these young men! Andrew, I believe, has turned to religion, become a pastor, and is helping other prisoners through the nightmare of their own incarcerations. Myuran has developed an understanding of the spiritual through the arts, and become, with the help of our young artist Ben Quilty, an accomplished artist himself.

Myuran amazed me. There is footage in the “Four Corners” program of him smiling broadly—even laughing—despite the impending tragedy of his sentence. There is about his face nothing of the closed sulleness and anger of the time of his capture, but a light of compassion, and, dare I say it, a quality of grace, which shows me he is a different man from the one who went into your prison almost a decade ago. I felt deeply ashamed of my having dismissed the two as “typical drug dealers” and when I heard his letter that was read to the crowd at a vigil in Sydney, was moved to tears.

Myuran and Andrew have done what so many of us cannot do: admitted they have made grievous mistakes. They have promised that they are no longer those men capable of the criminal acts for which they were imprisoned. I do not believe that it is just the sentence of death that has changed these two. Something in your prison has wrought good men from damaged goods capable of horrible deeds. Perhaps it is the connection with other, Indonesian, prisoners, that has done it. All I know is that a transformation has taken place, something that does not often happen in such circumstances. It would be a wonderful thing to see these young men continue to grow as even better human beings in forthcoming years.

Indonesia and Australia are kin because we share the same part of the world. We were appalled when the tsunami took so many Indonesian lives. Regardless of what people say in moments of fear or anger, we would never abandon you, our neighbours, at any time you needed our help. That would be completely unAustralian. We are in this part of the world together. Together we will protect it and grow as even better neighbours.

If there is a lesson in the story of Andrew and Myuran, it is that their plight has made us all re-examine our own humanity. Made us question ideas that were convenient but did not actually stand the glare of scrutiny. Andrew’s and Myuran’s predicament has made us all a little more human. Please allow them to continue growing as good—maybe one day even great—human beings.

With respect and love,

Dengan segala hormat,

Cheryl Jorgensen,


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One Comment

  1. Cheryl

    The good news is that this letter was published in its entirety by The Jakarta Post on February 27.
    It would seem that the Indonesian press can teach the Australian press a lot about being fair and not pushing any political barrow.

    Have you signed the Mercy Campaign petition yet? It is probably one of the most important things that you’ll ever do. So please sign it.

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