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Townsville bishop supporting freed Bali Nine member’s plea to shorten sentences

Call for release: One of the Bali Nine, Scott Rush, speaking to his father Lee in prison in Indonesia in 2006. Photo: AAP

TOWNSVILLE Bishop Tim Harris expressed his support for Bali Nine member Renae Lawrence as she pleaded for reduced and determinant sentences for her fellow drug smugglers.

Ms Lawrence, the only female member of the Bali Nine, was released last year after 13 years in various prisons for her role in the foiled drug-smuggling operation in Indonesia in 2005.

Until now, she has maintained a “self-imposed” media silence.

Her plea was aimed at Indonesian Prime Minister Joko Widodo and Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Mr Widodo’s state visit to Australia last week.

She said fellow smugglers Matthew Norman, Michael Czugaj, Scott Rush, Martin Stephens and Si Yi Chen were all “young men” when they were arrested.

Ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were sentenced to death and executed on April 25, 2015.

Ms Lawrence said she continued to worry for the remaining men, who should be given determinant sentences.

They face lifetime prison terms with no chance of release.  

“Their families constantly travel to Indonesia to visit their sons at great expense, yet their anguish remains and as each year goes by these young men are losing hope,” Ms Lawrence said.

“We acknowledge that we did the wrong thing and we continue to apologise to the Indonesian government and the citizens of Indonesia and Australia and its people for our stupidity.

“If it was possible that they were granted a determinant sentence (then) that hope would return.

“Should that not be possible, then a prisoner exchange between Australia and Indonesia would enable more ready access to their Australian sons and, indeed, Indonesian families more ready access to their sons and daughters that are in an Australian prison.

“These humane actions would in some small part bring our nations (closer) together.”

Taking to Twitter last Sunday, Bishop Harris gave his support to Ms Lawrence’s plea.

“I support Renae Lawrence as she calls for reduced sentences for the remaining Bali Nine members,” he said in a tweet.

“Justice has been well and truly served. Now it is time for mercy.”

Bishop Harris, who spoke to The Catholic Leader last month on this issue, said after so long in prison, “I would have thought there was a feeling of no hope amongst them”.

“If they’re home here, there may be an opportunity to help these people, to help rehabilitate,” he said.

“Why aren’t governments thinking about the things I’m raising with you now? We’ve got to think outside the square. 

“You just leave these people languishing in a foreign prison for another six or seven or eight years, what’s the point? Bring them home.”

During the 2005 arrests, the families of Scott Rush and Michael Czugaj were part of Corinda-Graceville parish when Bishop Harris was parish priest. 

He grew close to the Rush family and visited the prison in 2008.

There he saw the conditions of the prisons and said it was not to the Australian standard. 

Bringing them home meant the prisoners could access better facilities, he said.

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