Jewel Topsfield and Karuni Rompies
Jakarta: An Indonesian Cabinet minister personally signed a letter guaranteeing an Australian permanent resident accused of poisoning her friend with cyanide will not face the death penalty.
Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly confirmed the Indonesian government had provided written assurance that Jessica Kumala Wongso will not be executed if found guilty.
“Yes, I was the one who guaranteed it,” Mr Yasonna told Fairfax Media.
“We have written the letter. We co-ordinated it with the Attorney-General and the Jakarta Police Chief.”
Ms Wongso, an Indonesian with permanent residency status in Australia, has been accused of the premeditated murder of her friend Wayan Mirna Salihin, with whom she had studied in Australia.
Ms Salihin died of cyanide poisoning on January 6 after drinking a Vietnamese iced coffee that Ms Wongso had ordered for her at an upmarket cafe in a Jakarta shopping mall.
The death penalty is the maximum sentence for premeditated murder in Indonesia.
Indonesia asked the Australian Federal Police for assistance investigating the case given Ms Wongso worked for NSW Ambulance until late last year and the two women had studied together at Billy Blue College of Design in Sydney and Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne.
However under the AFP guidelines on international police assistance in death penalty situations, ministerial approval is required if a person has been detained, arrested, charged or convicted of an offence that carries the death penalty.
The AFP faced criticism for handing over information to Indonesian authorities about the Bali nine, which led to their arrests for heroin smuggling in 2005. The coordinators of the Bali nine, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, were executed in Indonesia last year.
New guidelines for the AFP’s role in cases involving the death penalty were introduced in 2009 after a federal court exonerated the AFP from acting unlawfully in the Bali nine case but argued new protocols were needed.
The Australian Attorney-General’s office said the Indonesian government had given an assurance to the Australian government that the death penalty would not be sought or carried out in relation to the alleged offending.
“We provided the guarantee otherwise it was impossible that they [Australia] accepted our team [to go] there,” Mr Yasonna said.
However Professor Tim Lindsey, the director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society at Melbourne University, questioned the reliability of the agreement between the two countries.
“I think it’s not much of an assurance at all in legal terms … you could imagine a situation in which she could still be executed.”
Dr Lindsey said there was a separation of powers between the legal system and the government in Indonesia. “The government can’t give any undertaking that would bind judges,” he said.
“Even if the prosecutors do not seek the death penalty, judges can certainly ignore that.”
Dr Lindsey also said that Ms Wongso would not be able to sit indefinitely on death row as guidelines required prisoners to be executed once they had exhausted their legal options.
“If the letter was a promise to grant her clemency that would have to come directly from the president and even then it would be very dubious as he can only exercise that power after an application is made and he has received advice from the Supreme Court.
“He probably would not be bound by the letter. As a matter of law, it’s a very strange agreement and I don’t know it’s really reliable.”