When Bali 9 Member Myuran Sukumaran Was Executed, He Was Singing

He wasn't, as is widely believed, singing Amazing Grace when the bullets from an Indonesian firing squad ended his life.

That was earlier. The very moment Myuran Sukumaran died on 29 April, 2015, he was singing Marshall Hall's Bless The Lord (Ten Thousand Reasons), which includes the poignant line:

"Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me

"Let me be singing when the evening comes."

He had been arrested ten years earlier, as one of the ringleaders in the 'Bali 9' drug squad. There's no question that he committed a serious crime, as did his co-conspirator Andrew Chan, but did the pair deserve the death penalty?

Most Australians disagree, and none more so than pastor Christie Buckingham, Sukumaran's spiritual adviser who was with him right up until he died.

Myuran Sukumaran is escorted in to Denpasar District Court for the beginning of his trial on October 11, 2005. Photo: Getty

She describes him as one of the most courageous men she'd ever known, and his death as nothing more than a waste.

"To go to his death, living out his values of compassion, courage, empathy, kindness, forgiveness -- that is courageous, and in the wake of such injustice, and such a waste of human life," she told ten daily.

"The word courageous to me means 'with heart', and so he lived with heart -- right up until his heart was ripped out by a bullet."

The final 72 hours of Sukumaran's life are the subject of the documentary Guilty, which co-writer and director Matthew Sleeth describes as a creative response to living through the events of Sukumaran's life and death.

"My thoughts kept returning to the act of killing: to the process of taking someone to a field in the middle of the night and shooting them," he said.

"Not only about how surreal the administrative logistics of this are, but about the damage this does: both to the family and friends of those killed, and to the people asked to carry out this dirty work."

The film and its creators make a strong call for abolishing the death penalty, which is still law in six of Australia's closest neighbours: Indonesia, China, Taiwan, Singapore, India and Sri Lanka.

The death penalty is "the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment", according to Amnesty International, which puts the figure at almost 1,000 people killed worldwide in 2016 -- excluding China, which estimates it has figures in the thousands.

"The death penalty has no place in the 21st century," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last year.

READ MORE: Pope Shifts Church On Death Penalty

The injustice of it all, to those who knew Sukumaran, is that he was a model prisoner and an example of successful rehabilitation.

"He turned himself and others around," Buckingham said, who has had the "honour" to be with a number of people as they've died.

At the moment of transition, there's usually a sense of relief, as the person passes over and transitions from living to dead, she said.

"But in this situation, there was just such a sense of waste."

Myuran Sukumaran poses with his self-portrait in 2013. He was trained by famous Australian artist Ben Quilty. Photo: Getty.

Buckingham doesn't negate the seriousness of Sukumaran's crimes, but describes him as someone who could be any one of us. The way he turned himself around in prison and became a leader to his fellow inmates was inspiring, she said, and many of those who came under his wing have found new lives upon release.

"He was a good guy who got into the wrong company."

She also warned that unless we heed the lessons of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, we're doomed to repeat them.

For some of us, it seems unfathomable that the international tragedy -- and Australia's desperate pleas for clemency in Sukumaran and Chen's final days -- be forgotten, but Buckingham said she met a 16-year-old who had never heard of the Bali 9.

"And if people haven't heard of them, then there's going to be another one," she said.

"The line, 'The death penalty may apply for drugs' isn't just a simple line. It's a reality."

Myuran Sukumaran mother and father, Raji and Sam Sukumaran, at a press conference after saying their last goodbye to their son. Photo: AAP

Global attitudes to executions are changing, and the number of executions carried out globally has continued to drop since a record high in 2015.

Indonesia has not carried out an execution since 2016, and just this past October, on World Day Against The Death Penalty, Malaysia imposed a moratorium on all executions until the death penalty is abolished.

But Buckingham is adamant that even one case of "state-sanctioned vengeance", as she describes it, is too many.

She was with Sukumaran right up until the moment he stopped singing, and told ten daily that in his final moments, she watched a man grow so courageous until it almost felt like he was becoming too big for his body.

"He wanted to forgive the people tying him to the poles, and he wanted to restate his faith," she said.

"He shouted out, 'I believe', and 'Jesus I trust in you', and after that, he raised his head and started to sing."

She was speaking to him even as she stepped out of the firing line.

"I said to Myuran, I'm just going to take a step back. Can you still hear me. And he said yes, I can still hear you. And then I said I'm just going to take another few steps to the side, can you still hear me? And he said yes, I can still hear you. And then we moved further away, and we heard the shots go off, and the singing stopped. And then there was complete silence."

Contact the author: abrucesmith@networkten.com.au

Lead photo: AAP