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Indonesian Court Supports Death for Drug Offenses

Indonesia's constitutional court has upheld capital punishment for drug traffickers. The verdict came in an appeal filed by members of the so-called Bali nine - Australians convicted in a heroin case two years ago. Trish Anderton reports from Jakarta.

The court found that a constitutional clause supporting the right to life did not prevent the state from executing people for serious crimes. The ruling went against Australians Myuran Sukumaran, Andrew Chan and Scott Rush, who are facing execution for their convictions on heroin smuggling charges.

A lawyer for Rush, Robert Khuana, says the decision is not completely bad for his client. Rush was convicted of being a drug mule - carrying the drugs - and his legal team is arguing the death penalty is excessive.

Robert Khuana says six of the nine judges specified that courts must be selective and careful in their consideration of capital cases.

"It is not so bad," said Khuana. "Not so bad because according to us it is not selective and not careful in the consideration."

The ruling also stated that foreigners do not have legal standing to challenge Indonesian laws.

Andrew Sriro is a lawyer in Jakarta and writes an annual guide to Indonesian law.

He says if this is true, it will cripple foreigners' ability to defend themselves in Indonesian courts. Sriro thinks the ruling could affect a broad range of legal proceedings, from business disputes to criminal cases.

"I think this is a draconian ruling that is a significant setback for the rule of law in Indonesia and the security of foreigners residing in or doing business in Indonesia," said Sriro.

Indonesia, like several Southeast Asian countries, has very strict laws against drug use and smuggling.

The Bali nine were caught trying to smuggle more than eight kilograms of heroin from Bali to Australia in 2005. Six members of the group are facing the death penalty, while two got life sentences. The only female member was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Even a ruling finding the death penalty unconstitutional would not have automatically saved the men's lives, because the constitutional court does not have the power to overturn sentences. The three convicted traffickers hoped to use a favorable decision as part of their final appeals.

Australia has said it will appeal for clemency for the nine once all legal avenues have been exhausted.

At the end of last year, 37 foreigners were on Indonesia's death row, most for drug offenses.