Indonesia on Wednesday staunchly defended its execution of seven foreigners including two Australians as a vital front of its “war” on drugs as testimony emerged of how they went singing to their deaths.
Australia withdrew its ambassador in protest at the midnight executions, but Indonesian President Joko Widodo said he was merely applying “the rule of law” against narcotics traffickers.
The seven convicts — two from Australia, one from Brazil and four from Africa — were shot by firing squad along with one Indonesian, despite strident foreign appeals and pleas from family members.
Brazil expressed “deep regret” at the execution of its national, who is mentally ill according to his family, and said it was weighing its next move.
The condemned men reportedly all refused blindfolds and sang hymns, among them “Amazing Grace”, as they went to face the firing squad in a jungle clearing, according to a pastor who was with them.
As the clock ticked down to midnight, a group of tearful supporters also sang hymns, embraced and held candles aloft during a vigil at the port in Cilacap, the gateway to the prison island of Nusakambangan.
After the executions, family members could be seen crying as they were ushered away by friends and supporters, an AFP reporter saw.
A Filipina originally set to be executed was given an 11th hour reprieve after a woman who allegedly duped her into ferrying drugs to Indonesia came forward to police in the Philippines.
The reprieve for Mary Jane Veloso was hailed in the Philippines as a miracle and a gift from God, but Indonesian Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo stressed it was only a “postponement” to allow time for police investigations.
He added: “We are fighting a war against horrible drug crimes that threaten our nation’s survival.
“I would like to say that an execution is not a pleasant thing. It is not a fun job,” Prasetyo told reporters in Cilacap.
“But we must do it in order to save the nation from the danger of drugs. We are not making enemies of countries from where those executed came. What we are fighting against is drug-related crimes.”
Prasetyo also played down Australia’s decision to recall its ambassador, describing it as a “temporary reaction”, while Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi stressed Jakarta’s desire to “continue having good relations” with one of its most important trading partners.
Australia had mounted a sustained campaign to save its citizens, who have been on death row for almost a decade, and Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the executions were “both cruel and unnecessary”.
“We respect Indonesia’s sovereignty but we do deplore what’s been done and this cannot be simply business as usual,” he said, announcing Australia’s unprecedented step of recalling its Jakarta ambassador.
Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, ringleaders of the so-called “Bali Nine” heroin trafficking gang, were described by Canberra as reformed men after years in prison.
The families said their sons did “all they could to make amends, helping many others” in the years since their arrests, with Sukumaran teaching fellow inmates English and art, and Chan ordained as a minister in February.
“They asked for mercy, but there was none. They were immensely grateful for all the support they received. We too, will be forever grateful,” the families said in a joint statement.
Widodo, who took office in October, says Indonesia is facing an emergency due to rising drugs use, citing figures from the national anti-narcotics agency showing that more than 30 Indonesians die every day due to drugs.
However some academics believe the agency’s data is flawed, while critics accuse Widodo of pursuing a populist policy following recent political problems.
The bodies of Chan and Sukumaran, in plain wooden coffins, arrived in Jakarta after being driven from Cilacap in two ambulances. They were taken to a funeral home and will soon be flown back to Australia for burial.
There were very different scenes in the Philippines after the last-minute reprieve for Veloso, whose case attracted emotional appeals for mercy from boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao among others.
“Miracles do come true,” her mother Celia told a Philippine radio station, adding that her daughter’s two boys aged 12 and six were awake and yelling “Yes, yes, mama will live”.
Little is known about the other four executed foreigners — three of them are from Nigeria but it is not clear whether the fourth held Ghanaian or Nigerian nationality.
The execution of the Brazilian, Rodrigo Gularte, has generated much criticism in his homeland, with his family saying he suffered from schizophrenia and should not have faced the death penalty.
Gularte’s cousin was seen crying as she left the port of Cilacap, accompanied by a religious counsellor.
A Frenchman was originally among the group to be executed but he was granted a temporary reprieve after authorities agreed to allow a legal appeal to run its course.