9 Get Death Penalty for Producing Ecstasy in Indonesia

Indonesia's Supreme Court sentenced nine men, including Chinese, French and Dutch nationals, to death Tuesday for producing millions of pills of the illegal recreational drug Ecstasy.

The punishment for the foreigners was harsher than that rendered by a lower court last year which had ordered the execution of just the two alleged Indonesian ringleaders.

The Dutch and French governments promptly reiterated their opposition to the death penalty, but had no specific reaction to the Indonesian case because they had not yet been informed directly.

"The Supreme Court considers the Frenchman and Dutchman experts," Supreme Court spokesman Djoko Sarwoko told The Associated Press. "If we let them be, they would be able to produce in another place, or teach others their skills. This is a threat to the next generation."

Five Chinese defendants funded the operation, he said, while two Indonesian men had run the day-to-day manufacturing operation.

In November, the Tangerang District Court handed down life sentences to Serge Areski Atloui of France and Dick Nicolaas of the Netherlands. Five Chinese men each got 20 years and an Indonesian security guard 10.

Nancy Yuliana, the defense lawyer for Nicolaas, said she and her client had not yet been informed of the latest decision.

The factory in Banten province, 60 miles west of Jakarta, was capable of producing 300,000 Ecstasy tablets per week, prosecutors said. An estimated $142 million worth of Ecstasy, methamphetamines, ketamine and chemical ingredients were seized by the police from the plant, among the largest discovered in Indonesia.

Capital punishment is common for serious drug offenders in the predominantly Muslim and socially conservative nation of more than 234 million people.

At the end of 2006, there were 37 foreigners on death row, most of them on drug charges, including six Australians convicted of heroin smuggling. Another 22 foreigners were serving life sentences.

The nine men have one last legal option to contest Tuesday's Supreme Court ruling, the so-called judicial review, but new evidence must be produced. They can also seek a presidential pardon.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Denis Simonneau said: "We are opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances, regardless of the country."

In the Netherlands, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Dadou said if the decision is confirmed "we will again make clear to the Indonesian authorities our objection in principle to capital punishment, and push to have the sentence commuted to life in prison."

Ecstasy is popular in Indonesia and criminal gangs also have taken advantage of the country's poor law enforcement and rampant corruption to produce the drug for export.

According to documents about the factory raid, various laboratory components arrived in Indonesia in May 2005 and were set up in an abandoned warehouse in a four-acre compound a month later.

Within weeks, law enforcement agents identified large quantities of ketamine in the African country of Malawi, which then passed by ship through China and Singapore before arriving in Indonesia disguised as soy beans.