CANBERRA, Australia – Indonesian President Joko Widodo has been too busy during the past three weeks to accept a phone call from the Australian prime minister to plead for the lives of two death row prisoners, an Indonesian envoy said Thursday.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters on March 5 that he had requested a telephone conversation with Widodo on the impending executions of Australian heroin traffickers Andrew Chan, 31, and Myuran Sukumaran, 33.
Indonesian Ambassador to Australia Nadjib Riphat Kesoema on Thursday brushed off suggestions of a diplomatic snub.
"The president was so busy," Kesoema told reporters in the Australian capital Canberra.
"Because, as you know, the first program of the president is going to his people, to the provinces. Not only in Java, in Kalimanta or Sumatra, but also in Papua. So it's many visits that he should make," he said.
Australia's efforts to save the lives of the Australians has strained diplomatic relations between the close neighbors that share a brittle bilateral relationship.
Abbott made his last request for a talk a week after a similar conversation failed to sway Widodo, who wants the Australians to be among a group of 10 drug convicts to face firing squads soon.
"I've certainly put in a request because the government and the people of Indonesia need to know that this is important to us," Abbott said in early March.
Lawyers for Chan and Sukumaran on Wednesday presented evidence to a state administrative court in Jakarta to support their appeal against a decree by Widodo denying them clemency.
The court was adjourned until Monday when it will hear expert evidence.
Chan and Sukumaran were the ringleaders of a gang of nine Australians arrested in April 2005 while trying to smuggle more than 8 kilograms (18 pounds) of heroin from the resort island of Bali to Sydney.
Besides the two Australians, a Nigerian national born in Spain, two other Nigerians, a Filipino woman and four men from Brazil, France, Ghana and Indonesia are also scheduled to be executed.
The executions have been put on hold while several prisoners exhaust all avenues of appeal.
The planned executions have also soured relations between Indonesia and other countries, especially Brazil.
Widodo has vowed not to grant mercy to drug offenders because Indonesia is suffering a "drug emergency."