Bali executions: Eight prisoners refused blindfolds as they were shot – Sydney Morning Herald
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In the still night air of Nusakambangan island, eight condemned prisoners joined together in a chorus of Amazing Grace just after midnight, before their song was cut off by the crack of gunfire.
It was breathtaking. This was the first time I witnessed someone so excited to meet their God.
Pastor Karina de Vega
As details began to emerge of the final minutes of the group, who included the Bali nine pair Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, it was revealed all eight prisoners rebuffed offers of blindfolds, opting instead to stare at their executioners while they broke out in song.
Tunggal Panaluan, the firing range on Nusakambangan where Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan were executed. Photo: James Brickwood
Pastor Karina de Vega said the voices of all eight members of the group cut through the air.
“They were praising their God,” Pastor de Vega said.
“It was breathtaking. This was the first time I witnessed someone so excited to meet their God.”
One of the ambulances carrying a coffin of one of the executed leaving Wijaya Pura in Cilacap. Photo: James Brickwood
Pastor de Vega said it was the most beautiful experience she had ever had.
“They bonded together,” she said. “Brotherhood. They sang one song after another. Praising God. They sang a few songs together, like in a choir.
“The non-Christian, I believe, also sang from his heart. It was such an experience.”
Coffins leaving Wijaya Pura in Cilacap after the executions on Nusakambangan. Photo: James Brickwood
At 15 minutes to midnight, the families of the condemned lit a candle as they watched the grim procession of cars taking the prisoners to the execution site.
One of the people in the group led a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. Immediately afterwards they were startled by loud gunshots.
Many became hysterical while others, including the spiritual advisers, offered consolation. But by the time the coffins arrived for identification and official handover, a measure of calm had returned and the process went smoothly.
A midnight candle light vigul held at Wijaya Pura in Cilacap on the day of the execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. Photo: James Brickwood
Father Charles Burrows, who provided spiritual guidance to condemned Brazilian man Rodrigo Gularte, said the men met their fate without blindfolds, staring straight ahead.
“Everyone was looking forward, it seems everyone accepted their fate,” Father Burrows said.
He said it was difficult because Gularte, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was a teenager, was mentally ill.
Gularte talked to animals and was afraid of electromagnetic waves from satellites watching him above his prison on the island of Nusakambangan.
In his deluded state, he believed Indonesia had abolished capital punishment and established a prisoner extradition agreement with Brazil, which meant he could go home next year.
“We didn’t think [the execution] would happen,” Father Burrows said. “It is finished. It’s all done.”
Pastor Tuhu Santoso led the prison church Mass in Besi prison on the island before the condemned prisoners were put in isolation on Saturday.
Nigerian Raheem Agbaje Salami, who was known as Stefanus, described how Jesus had saved him.
Chan played the guitar and read a verse from the Bible stating everything that happened was God’s will. Not a single feather would fall off a sparrow, without God permitting it, Chan read.
Chan and Sukumaran told Pastor Tuhu they still believed in miracles and that God would save them but, if they were executed, it was part of God’s plan.
The pair were initially told they could not be accompanied by their choice of religious counsellor in their final hours.
In an SMS, an angry Michael Chan, Andrew’s brother, told Fairfax Media: “Last bit of dignity denied.”
However, Indonesian authorities changed their minds at the last moment and Christie Buckingham, a senior pastor at Bayside Church, and David Soper, an old friend of the Chan family, were able to be with the men until the final minutes, leaving only when they were led off to the firing squad.
Fairfax Media understands both men died quickly. A source said all eight prisoners died after being shot in the heart.
It was not necessary for the commander to shoot anyone in the head, as is the case if prisoners don’t die after 10 minutes.
One of the condemned men, Nigerian gospel singer Okwudili Ayotanze, was confident right until the end that he was going to be taken off the execution list due to his pending case in the Administrative Court.
Friends and those who knew him for more than 10 years in prison were dismayed his case had been left to the 11h hour.
They believed that, if the court process had started earlier, Ayotanze’s life could have been saved.
A friend close to Ayotanze said he never stopped helping other prisoners. He would make sure everyone would come out of their cells and attend Mass.
“He was basically the Nigerian version of Andrew Chan,” he said.
“He was a good person. I will really feel the loss.”
The Chan and Sukumaran families released a statement on Wednesday morning.
“Today we lost Myuran and Andrew,” the families said.
“Our sons, our brothers. In the 10 years since they were arrested, they did all they could to make amends, helping many others.”
The family said they asked for mercy, but there was none.
“They were immensely grateful for all the support they received. We too, will be forever grateful.”
Brin Sukumaran, Myuran’s sister, posted a tribute on Facebook at midnight.
“Bless the lord o my soul. Myu likes this song. He sang it today. Please sing it for him,” she wrote.
Ambulances containing eight coffins left Nusakambangan and are on the 12-hour journey to Jakarta.
Australia’s consul-general is required to identify the bodies of the Australians, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said.
The bodies of Chan and Sukumaran will then be returned to Australia, most likely on Friday.