Death penalty warning for AFP

Posted on 7 Ogos 2010

THE AFP has been told to consider the impact its investigations have on Australian citizens when working with other countries.

The instruction applied to countries that apply the death penalty.

Yesterday’s instruction was contained in an official ministerial direction by Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor and was an apparent reference to the AFP’s role in the Bali Nine drug case, in which nine young Australians attempted to smuggle heroin into Australia from Bali.

Arrested as they were leaving Indonesia, three of the group — Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukumaran and Scott Rush — were subsequently sentenced to death.

Their fate provoked savage criticism of the AFP, which co-operated with Indonesian authorities to bust the 2005 conspiracy.

The direction, which updates a set of instructions issued in August 2008, sets the AFP’s law enforcement priorities and outlines the strategic framework in which the government expects the AFP to operate. It instructs the AFP to “take account of the government’s long-standing opposition to the application of the death penalty in performing its international liaison functions”.

It is the first time such an instruction has been included in the ministerial directions.

Lee Rush, whose son Scott Rush is due to appeal his death sentence this month, welcomed the new guidelines, saying the instruction could have saved his son from his current predicament. “If what you’ve referred to me today was in place 5 1/2 years ago, no, I would think that the Australian Federal Police officers would not have made the same decision,” Mr Rush told The Australian.

The directions build on guidelines handed down in December governing co-operation in cases that could involve the death penalty. Those guidelines required the AFP to consider a number of factors when dealing with potential death penalty cases, including the severity of the crime, the type of information being provided and the nationality of those affected.

But former Howard government minister Philip Ruddock described the new instructions as “very problematic”.

Mr Ruddock, who was Australia’s attorney-general at the time of the Bali Nine case, said the instruction would apply to a range of crime types, such as terrorism.

“That’s really saying that in relation to potential terrorist events the AFP cannot provide information to the Indonesians,” Mr Ruddock told The Australian.

Mr Ruddock also said the new rules could complicate the AFP’s dealings with important partner countries, such as the US. And he defended the role of the AFP in the Bali Nine case.

“I took no objection on the advice given to me about the way the police conducted themselves,” Mr Ruddock said.

Rush’s sentence, which in a perverse twist was upgraded to death only after he appealed to have it reduced, has prompted some very high-level lobbying.

Retired police commissioner Mick Keelty wrote a letter in Rush’s defence, describing him as a bit player in the conspiracy.

The letter, which was written before Mr Keelty retired, is expected to play a key role in Rush’s upcoming appeal.

“There is no indication that Scott was an organiser or aware of the scale of the organisation behind the volume of drug importations,” Mr Keelty reportedly wrote.

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