Australian Artist Ben Quilty Seeks Mercy for Bali Nine

Myuran Sukumaran, self portrait and portrait of fellow death-row inmate Andrew Chan.
Myuran Sukumaran, self portrait and portrait of fellow death-row inmate Andrew Chan.

Australian artist Ben Quilty is holding a candlelight vigil in Sydney tonight for his countrymen Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan. Members of the Bali Nine, they were arrested in Indonesia in 2005 for heroin trafficking and face imminent execution.

Quilty met the pair when teaching art classes at the Kerobokan jail. Sukumaran quickly stood out, and has since begun studying by mail for a fine arts bachelor’s degree. He now runs the classes himself between Quilty’s visits. Quilty believes both men have been rehabilitated, telling the Sydney Morning Herald that “they made stupid, self-indulgent mistakes, but so did I.”

President Joko Widodo has rejected pleas for clemency. “Every day we have 50 people die because of narcotics, of drugs. In one year, it’s 18,000 people who die because of narcotics,” he told CNN.

“No compromise,” he added. “No compromise.”

Sukumaran is planning for the worst. “Last time [we met] I felt like he wasted an hour with me just talking through the logistics about how the classes would run if he’s gone, which was very upsetting,” Quilty said to CNN. “He pointed out to me … who the strong artists were, with the most future in the art practice.”

“And I thought, what can I do?” he said. “I thought I can actually show the boys that there are people who care for them, just to give them a sense of dignity, I guess.”

Tonight’s event will include a “Music for Mercy” concert emceed by actor David Wenham.

The duo’s lawyers are expected to file one last bid for clemency.

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