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In Indonesia Convicts in the dark for hours about execution reprieve

Despite international protests, one Indonesian and three Nigerian convicts were put to death shortly after midnight last Friday on a prison island

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Convicts in the dark for hours about Indonesia execution reprieve play

Relatives of Pakistani national Zulfiqar Ali, who was sentenced to death in 2005 for heroin possession, celebrate in Lahore after the Indonesian government halted his execution

(AFP/File Arif Ali)

Ten drug convicts whose executions  were delayed during a chaotic process in Indonesia were only officially informed of the temporary reprieve hours after they had expected to face the firing squad, a lawyer said Wednesday.

Despite international protests, one Indonesian and three Nigerian convicts were put to death shortly after midnight last Friday on a prison island -- Jakarta's first round of executions for over a year.

But another 10 death row prisoners -- Indonesians as well as nationals from Pakistan, India, Zimbabwe and Nigeria -- were not executed, although authorities have suggested they will face the firing squad later.

It is still not clear why the group was spared at the 11th hour and the process has attracted strong condemnation, with one lawyer calling it a "complete mess".

Authorities have not given a clear explanation. Theories have ranged from concerns over legal problems with several cases to a major storm that hit Nusakambangan prison island as officials were about to carry out the sentences.

Family members mourn at the grave of an Indonesian man after his execution on a prison island  play

Family members mourn at the grave of an Indonesian man after his execution on a prison island 

(AFP Juni Kriswanto)

 

Adding to the sense of chaos, a lawyer for one of the 10 said they were not officially informed their executions were being halted until around 6:00 am on Friday (2300 GMT Thursday) -- about five hours after the four others were shot and four hours after authorities had announced the initial executions to the media.

Lawyer Arinta Singgih -- who represented one of the group, Indonesian woman Merri Utami -- said that as the hours passed, the group suspected they had been spared but this did not become clear for some time.

"At six o'clock, the doors of the isolation cells were opened," Singgih told AFP, referring to the cells where death row convicts wait before being executed.

"Guessing that they would not be executed, they walked out of the doors and hugged each other in joy."

They were then informed by officials that they would not be executed but were not given an explanation, she said.

- 'Ready to die' -

Only hours earlier a prison warden had told Utami, whom activists have claimed is innocent and was tricked into becoming a drug mule, to get ready to leave her cell. However moments later the warden told her to stay put -- leading her to suspect the execution might not go ahead.

"She had put make-up on and was ready to die," Singgih said, adding Utami had spent the previous day reading a prayer book. "She said that she had never felt that calm before in her life."

Lawyer Ricky Gunawan -- whose Nigerian client Humphrey Jefferson Ejike Eleweke was among those tied to a post and shot in a jungle clearing last week -- slammed the "cruel and inhumane treatment" of those left waiting for hours to learn they would be spared.

"Imagine the psychological suffering," he told AFP. 

Last week's executions were the third under President Joko Widodo since he took office in 2014. The last round was in April 2015 when authorities put to death eight drug convicts, including two Australians, sparking international outrage.

Widodo has defended dramatically ramping up the use of capital punishment, saying Indonesia is fighting a war on drugs and  traffickers must be heavily punished.

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