Machinery of death

christie buckingham

TIM LAM

A Melbourne pastor who was present at the executions of Bali Nine ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukamaran warns it is only a matter of time before another Australian faces the death penalty.

When Sukamaran’s last clemency plea was rejected, he chose Bayside Church pastor Christie Buckingham to be the official witness to his execution.

Christie, who offered pastoral support inside Kerobokan prison where the Bali Nine members were jailed, recalled Sukamaran’s final words as he faced the Indonesian firing squad.

“Myu decided that he wanted to forgive the people who were tying him to the pole and those who were about to shoot him,” she said.

“He called out ‘Lord, bless Indonesia’. Then he said ‘Jesus, I trust in you’.”

As the firing squad prepared their bullets, the eight inmates started to sing Bless the Lord.

They were midway through the second verse when the sound of gunfire echoed across the field.

“There was singing and then there was silence,” Christie said.

“And instantly, as the Bible says, they were ‘absent from the body, present with the Lord’. They had gone from a hellish place to a heavenly place out of all that torture.”

Having worked with drug addicts in Melbourne, Christie initially felt little sympathy for the Bali Nine members when they were first arrested in 2005.

But when a friend and fellow pastor introduced her to Chan and Sukamaran at Kerobokan prison six years later, she developed a different impression.

“Andrew was a total larrikin. He always talked, had a smile on his face and a cheeky laugh,” she said.

“On the other hand, Myu was very gentle and serious, but also had a fun side to him. He astounded me with his kindness, compassion, love and grace, even to the very end.”

During their decade behind bars, Chan and Sukamaran mentored other inmates, with the prison governor praising them as models of rehabilitation. Chan led church services inside the prison and eventually became an ordained pastor, while Sukamaran found his calling as an artist.

Christie said the two men wanted to stay alive so they could continue to support their fellow inmates and help turn other lives around.

“They were extraordinary young men and it was such a waste for them to be killed,” she said.

“Indonesian President Joko Widodo said he had a war against drugs – well, he killed two of his best weapons.”

Christie said research consistently showed the death penalty was not a deterrent.

“What I experienced on the night Andrew and Myu were killed was the machinery of death,” she said.

“It was a bloodlust, a desire for blame. As human beings, we want scapegoats. It came down to power and ultimate power should lie not in the hands of a man or in the government.”

Last month, the Australian government launched a new strategy for the abolition of the death penalty. Currently, more than 200,000 people are on death row worldwide.

“From a humanitarian perspective, killing people, even if they have killed other people, is not right,” Christie said.

“From a faith perspective, we’re to love our neighbours as ourselves. Our neighbouring countries – Japan, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Malaysia and Singapore – all still have the death penalty.”

Christie warned that Australians remained at risk in those countries.

“We have 316,000 Australians travelling to Japan, 492,720 to Thailand and more than a million going to Indonesia every year,” she said.

“When you do the maths, you see that people going into their territories are in jeopardy and it’s only a matter of time until someone will be arrested.

“But they should not be executed for their crimes because the death penalty is irreversible.”

Ahead of World Day Against the Death Penalty on 10 October, Christie is calling Australians to join the movement to abolish capital punishment.

There will be nationwide screenings of Guilty, a documentary depicting the final 72 hours of Sukamaran’s life.

“Those screenings will send a message to the United Nations, who are on the precipice of considering voting for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty,” Christie said.

Before his execution, Sukamaran asked her to make a vow to continue fighting against the death penalty.

“As people of faith, we should never consider another execution because Christ’s execution was the supreme sacrifice for the sins of the world – past, present and future,” Christie said.

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