JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia rejected on Thursday an Australian proposal for a prisoner swap made in an 11th hour effort to save the lives of two Australian drug smugglers expected to face a firing squad within days.
The planned executions of Myuran Sukumaran, 33, and Andrew Chan, 31, have ramped up diplomatic tension between Australia and Indonesia after repeated pleas for mercy on their behalf. They are among a group of up to 11 convicts, mostly foreigners, due to be executed on the prison island of Nusakambangan.
Indonesia’s foreign ministry said there was no legal basis for Indonesia to act on the proposal that had been made by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
“Basically Indonesia does not have any regulation or legal framework regarding a prisoner swap,” said Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Armanatha Nasir. “This idea was put forward to our minister two days ago and we told them then.”
A spokeswoman for Australia’s Bishop said: “We have not had confirmation of that from our end yet.”
Also facing execution are citizens of France, Brazil, the Philippines, Ghana and Nigeria, as well as Indonesia.
Australian politicians held a candlelight dawn vigil outside parliament house in support of the men early on Thursday, when Bishop said she had spoken to Indonesia’s foreign minister earlier this week.
“I raised the fact that there were Indonesian prisoners in Australian jails and whether there was an opportunity for us to consider a prisoner swap, a prisoner transfer or a clemency plea in exchange for a return of prisoners,” Bishop said.
“I just asked for a pause in their preparations for the execution of Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan so that we could have officials explore these ideas,” she told Sky News Australia.
Australia does not have the death penalty and a recent survey by the Sydney-based Lowy Institute think tank showed nearly two-thirds of the public disapproved of the executions.
Sukumaran and Chan were transferred from Bali’s Kerobokan Prison on Wednesday to Nusakambangan, which lies off Java.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he had asked to speak again with Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Thursday.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Widodo said the men would be executed soon, but not this week.
“I am still convinced that the justice system in Indonesia, if you look at drug crime, is valid and based on facts and evidence,” he said. “That’s why when I rejected their clemency, I looked at their cases, how many drugs they were carrying.”
Indonesia is expected to decide on the date for the executions in a few days, said Tony Spontana, spokesman for the attorney general’s office.
Widodo has adopted a tough stance against drug traffickers and others on death row, denying clemency appeals. Executions resumed in 2013 after a five-year gap and nationals from Brazil, Malawi, the Netherlands, Nigeria and Vietnam have been among those put in front of a firing squad.
Chan and Sukumaran were convicted in 2005 as the ringleaders of the so-called Bali Nine, who were arrested at the holiday island’s main airport for trying to smuggle 8 kg (18 lb) of heroin to Australia.
The seven other members of the gang, all Australians, have been jailed in Indonesia.
The Australian government has stressed that Chan and Sukumaran have been rehabilitated in prison, where they have mentored younger inmates, and has warned of potential political repercussions if the executions go ahead.
The pair have made numerous appeals against their sentences. One of those, which challenges Widodo’s refusal of clemency, is still outstanding.
Additional reporting by Eveline Danubrata in JAKARTA and Lincoln Feast and Jane Wardell in SYDNEY; Editing by Dean Yates and Paul Tait