A Bilateral Irritant

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard met her commitment to the Schapelle lobby on her visit to Indonesia this week, her first as leader of her country, by making the same representations on Corby’s behalf that have consistently been made by Australian representatives since Kerobokan’s most high-profile inmate decided to seek clemency from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono over the 20-year sentence she received in 2005 following her arrest in 2004 when 4.2 kilograms of marijuana was found in that boogie-board bag at Ngurah Rai International Airport. No less could be expected of Gillard, who has herself expressed the view that Corby deserves special consideration. We may surmise that the appeals against their death sentences by the three other Australians currently in the appeal process – the Bali Nine trio of Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukumaran and Scott Rush – were also the subject of discussion at the two leaders’ meeting in Jakarta.

Corby’s case has always been a cause célèbre in Australia, where an astonishing number of people hold that the former Gold Coast beauty student is innocent or was unfairly dealt with, and more and more are being recruited to the lobby that suggests she is mentally ill and because of this should be sent home. It is curious that her case should be a political issue in her home country. But it is, though, because of the argument – openly expressed by the rowdy classes who as usual shout from a position of ignorance; and put in a more circumspect way by other advocates who are not disconnected from reality – is prosecuted via the popular media and the social networking sites.

The Corby lobby, a worldwide phenomenon, asks us to believe that she is the victim of an Indonesian conspiracy and a fundamental miscarriage of justice that, we are also asked to believe, is all but ubiquitous in the Indonesian justice system. Small wonder Indonesia is rather less than enamoured, or keen to act, in the face of such ignorant arrogance. It is true that a 20-year sentence would be manifestly excessive for the offence of which Corby was convicted, if Indonesian law recognised the clear difference between marijuana (a “soft” drug) and killer narcotics, and if it took full account of the circumstances (and made judgments between silly idiots and criminal masterminds). It is also true that such a sentence would never be imposed in Australia. But Corby wasn’t in Australia, wasn’t tried by an Australian court and (like many) still appears unable to grasp that Indonesian courts hand down sentences in accordance with Indonesian law.

It is odds-on that some accommodation will eventually be made by the Indonesian side in relation to Corby’s sentence. President Yudhoyono, in comments after his meeting with Gillard, said the case should be seen in the context of the prisoner exchange treaty that has been in negotiation between the two countries since 2005. These negotiations stalled long ago. There has always been limited enthusiasm on the Indonesian side over the concept – implicit in the negotiations given the constant distraction of the Corby case – that Australians are somehow deserving of special consideration. But reaching an agreement and putting an exchange treaty in place would relieve Indonesia of the cost – not insubstantial in local terms – of accommodating a growing number of Australian malefactors and remove an unnecessary irritant in the bilateral relationship.

In relation to the death sentences on three of the Bali Nine, Australia long ago abolished capital punishment and consistently argues that case in international forums; it always makes strenuous representations on behalf of Australians sentenced to death in other jurisdictions. The Bali Times opposes the death penalty on moral grounds. We note the governor of Kerobokan Jail holds the view that the state should not usurp God’s will as it relates to when someone’s life ends. There are practical considerations, too. A death sentence once carried out cannot be reversed. That is of itself a jurisprudential fault. The courts must always be able to hear new evidence and be in a position to vary a sentence or acquit a defendant.

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