Death for pot in Indonesia
Somewhere in Bali a young Australian woman sits alone in a cold, dark cell, awaiting a decision on her execution.
27-year old Schapelle Leigh Corby has been charged with smuggling marijuana into the Indonesian island of Bali, and now Indonesian authorities wish to see her murdered, shot to death by a firing squad consisting of 12 men. Corby's life and the lives of those who love her have become a living nightmare.
On October 8, 2004, Corby was caught with 4.2 kilos of marijuana in her luggage at an airport in Bali. Police told reporters it was the largest amount of cannabis taken into Indonesia, and the first such case involving an Australian. Indonesian media has dubbed Corby "the marijuana queen."
Corby, a Gold Coast beauty school student, insists the marijuana was not hers. Many of Corby's supporters believe the marijuana must have been planted in her bag. For one, marijuana tends to be smuggled out of Bali, rather than into Bali because the prices for cannabis in Bali are much lower than the prices for cannabis in Australia. Even the head of the police investigation, Lieutenant-Colonel Bambang Sugiarto, ageed that it is unprecedented for anyone to smuggle marijuana into Bali from Australia.
In addition, the cannabis was found in a clear plastic bag in her body board bag, nestled on top of her yellow swimming fins and her body board. Sugiarto said no fingerprint tests had been conducted on the vacuum-sealed plastic bag, because too many hands had touched it after its discovery.
Corby's attorney, Lily Sri Rahayu Lubis, told reporters that the cannabis was not hidden, but in plain view for all to see once the bag was unzipped.
"Do you think somebody can be that stupid, can be crazy?" asked Lubis. "I don't know what to say but for me it is unbelievable."
Corby and her lawyer have proclaimed that she was innocent since her arrest.
"I am totally innocent," Corby told Australia's Channel Nine by telephone. "You just can't put an innocent person away."
Corby's nightmare began just after she arrived in Bali with her stepbrother and two girl friends. She had flown in from Brisbane via Sydney to Denpasar, on a trip to see her sister Mercedes and her sister's Balinese husband. She was looking forward to celebrating her sister's birthday with her, which was only a few days away. Instead, to everyone's surprise, she was arrested and forced to spend every day since behind bars.
She remembers the day very clearly. She told Channel Nine that she was quite happy to open her bags for the awaiting customs officers.
One of the customs officers pointed to her body board bag.
"He said to my brother 'Is that your boogie board?'" remembered Corby. "And I went, 'No, it's mine.' He didn't ask me, I just opened it... I put my suitcase and my board cover on in Brisbane, you know, and I arrived in Denpasar and I had the shock of my life."
The Balinese authorities will punish Corby with death by firing squad if she is found guilty of trafficking in marijuana. Otherwise she would get up to 20 years in prison and a one billion rupiah ($150,000 US) fine if convicted of importing and possessing the cannabis for personal use.
The Indonesian prosecutors assigned to her case have told the media that they are seeking to make a public example out of Corby.
"It's a drug case and it must be the toughest so that it will intimidate others who try to copy her," said Colonel Sugiarto. "There are warnings about the penalties at the airport in many areas, so we need to do this."
Indeed, eerie signs are scattered throughout the Bali airport, reading, "Death sentence to drug traffickers."
The Lieutenant is right about one thing, if the Balinese authorities decide to execute Corby, people will be intimidated. Tourists won't want to follow in Corby's footsteps by travelling to a country where marijuana equals death, especially when they are forced to land in an airport where drugs might be planted in their luggage.
Unfortunately, despite all of the public attention on Corby's case, the Balinese authorities have done little to help her plight. There is no record to be found with the weight of her body board bag as it left Australia, and it seems that the X-ray images taken of her bag as it passed through the Brisbane airport have been erased.
"I'd like to think that they would help me a little bit more than they are because I'm here and I shouldn't be here," Corby commented. "I need help from all the authorities, at the airports, to police, anyone who can help me with information I can give to my lawyers so I can go home."
The Bali drug squad sent a brief of evidence against her to the prosecutors assigned to Corby's case, which indicates that her trial could start within months.
Indonesia's drug war
Due to the fact Corby's case has become fairly high profile around the globe, there is the hope that she will be set free in the end, but it is obvious this will not happen without a fight. The political climate surrounding cannabis in Indonesia is extremely dark.
In 1997, the Indonesian government added the death penalty as a punishment for those convicted of drugs in their country. The law has yet to be enforced on any significant, well established drug dealers. Rather, the trend has been to execute unknown, first time, alleged drug traffickers like Corby, who don't have a significant amount of money to bribe the authorities to set them free.
There are currently 54 people listed on Indonesia's death row and 31 of the 54 have been convicted with drug charges. Two Thai nationals were killed by a firing squad in November 2004, after they were found guilty of smuggling heroin into Indonesia over 10 years ago. A 65 year old Indian man was also killed in 2004 for drug charges after his appeal for clemency was denied. Seven others with drug charges have had their last appeals for mercy denied and are now scheduled for execution.
The former Indonesian President, Megawati Sukarnoputri announced Indonesia's intent to implement a fierce war on drugs in 2002. She called for the execution of all drug dealers. "For those who distribute drugs, life sentences and other prison sentences are no longer sufficient," she said. "No sentence is sufficient other than the death sentence." Indonesia's new president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, also proudly supports executions for drug dealers.
"Heavier punishments have already been legislated because drug activities are very dangerous for the nation and the people," said the spokesman for Indonesia's Attorney-General. "Drug have infiltrated all layers of Indonesian society, from soldiers and the police to elementary school children. If drug dealers are not heavily punished, with the heaviest sentences, there is grave danger. This country will be destroyed because of drugs."
In early 2004, a man from Sierra Leone was found guilty of importing 500 grams of heroin into Bali. He initially received a life sentence, but when he appealed the sentence's severity the High Court upgraded it to death.
Corby's defense is working round the clock in hopes they will be able to prevent this same type of thing from happening to their client.
"We are turning over every stone possible to prove that she is innocent,'' said Corby's attorney, Lily Sri Rahayu Lubis. "Our main concern is to get the girl out as soon as possible. There is no bail for drug-related offences in Indonesia. The only way to get her out is to prove she didn't do it."
"They must have a system that can detect whether the stuff was there since she was in Brisbane," she told the media. "If there is goodwill from the Australian government, then help me prove Corby never carried that stuff from Brisbane."
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Australia would seek clemency if Corby was found guilty and sentenced to death by firing squad. But Lubis has asked the Australian government not to push for leniency, explaining that a clemency request could be counter-productive.
"Up to now we believe she is not guilty. It means she didn't own the drugs," said Lubis. "So it's not clemency we want right now. To have her released is what we want. Leniency would mean that it is true and that they were her drugs and she asks for forgiveness."
There has been talk of testing the cannabis in order to discover the origin of the strain that was in Corby's body board bag. But another member of Corby's legal team, Vasudeva Rasiah, said Corby had not yet decided whether to allow Australian Federal Police experts to conduct tests on the origin of the marijuana, because if the tests show the cannabis originated in Australia, it could be harmful for her case.
Corby's sister, Mercedes, said "The Australian Federal Police have agreed to help Schapelle with her case but we do not know what exactly they will do or when. They will be working together with the indonesian police."
Corby's family is doing their best to remain strong during this horrific ordeal. Schapelle Corby's father, Michael Corby, is 55 and suffering from prostate cancer. He has been unable to see his daughter since she left Australia because he is not well enough to travel. Throughout her stay in prison, he has expressed his faith in his daughter's virtue.
"She's innocent, she's not a dope head," he protested.
Corby's sister, Mercedes, said her family and friends are struggling to remain positive.
"It is very hard for us to see her in prison, but we try to keep strong. I think it is harder for family and friends at home as they can't see her everyday. We are all very frustrated as Schapelle just shouldn't be here."
Corby's mother, Ros Leigh, says that she may have to sell her home to cover the ever rising costs of fighting for her daughter's life. Leigh said she was trying not to think about the increasing costs of the case, so that she would not become overwhelmed by it all.
"My God, we hate to think. We are living day by day. We don't know if we have to sell our house or anything," said Leigh. "I'm not good with money. Anything over $1,000 boggles my mind. I am thinking 'My God where do we even start with this money?'"
Supporters of Corby have placed collection jars for her defense fund at several stores on the Australian Gold Coast and there is now a Help Free Schapelle Fund based in Sydney.
Corby's sister, Mercedes, visits her sister in the Balinese jail every day. She said Corby feels blessed to have so many people praying and fighting for her freedom.
"Schapelle and all her family and friends would like to thank everyone who is supporting her. Schapelle doesn't smoke marijuana or take any other drug and her blood tests were negative. She was so looking forward to her two week holiday in Bali, she loves Bali and it's people, this could have happened to anyone. Let's just pray it will be a fair trial and she will be home soon."
"I have to keep strong because my daughter is still alive," added Corby's mother. "That's what keeps me going. She has a life."
Help free Schapelle Leigh Corby
1. Contact the Australian Prime Minister and the Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs, asking them to place pressure on the Balinese Government to release Schapelle Corby.
* Australian Prime Minister: John Howard, House of Representatives, Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600, Australia
* Australian foreign affairs Minister: Alexander Downer A.Downer. MP@aph.gov.au
2. Contact the Indonesian Consulate in Australia and demand that they set Schapelle Corby free. Threaten to boycott all travel to Bali until they grant Corby her freedom.
* Consulate General - Republic of Indonesia, 72 Queens Road, Melbourne, Victoria 3004, Australia; email@example.com
3. Anyone who has ever experienced a problem with their luggage being tampered with at any Australian or Indonesian airports or has dealt with corrupt customs officials in Indonesia, please email your experience to: firstname.lastname@example.org
4. Donate money to the Help Free Schapelle Fund, by making a cheque or money order out to HFS Incorporated and mailing it to:
HFS Incorporated, PO Box 2097, Bondi Junction, Sydney, NSW 2022, Australia
Email email@example.com with any questions.