A 14-year-old Australian being held in Bali for alleged drug possession is facing three charges, and may stand trial as soon as next week.
The authorities have said that the trial will be kept as low-key as possible to avoid “intimidating” the youth, with judges and prosecutors wearing batik shirts instead of formal robes and the proceedings closed to the public. And instead of the usual three judges in adult trials, there may be just one hearing the case.
The boy, who has been named as Lewis Mason, is from Morisset Park, south of Newcastle, New South Wales.
He was arrested on October 4 with 6.9 grams of marijuana. He had allegedly bought the drug from an unidentified dealer in Kuta and was returning to the hotel on Jl Padma where he was staying with his parents when he was arrested.
On Tuesday Mason was formally handed over by police to prosecutors, and three charges were filed, opening the way for a trial to begin. The most serious of the charges faces a possible 12-year sentence, though this is often halved for juveniles.
A large crowd of reporters surrounded Mason and his parents as they arrived at the prosecutor’s office in Denpasar, and his lawyer, Mohammad Rifan, later said that the teenager had been frightened by the attention.
“It’s like a nightmare for him,” he said.
Amser Simanjuntak has already been appointed as chief judge for the trial, but he said that preparations would take at least three days, and that the trial was unlikely to begin before Tuesday.
Chief prosecutor I Gusti Gede Putu Atmaja said that although efforts would be made to expedite the process the trial could still take several weeks, adding that the court would be closed and efforts made to ensure the defendant was not unduly intimidated.
“We’re going to wear batik to make it less frightening to the child,” he said.
After the hearing at the prosecutor’s office Mason was returned to the immigration detention centre in Jimbaran where he has been held since being moved from Police headquarters in Denpasar on Saturday.
He is now being held in a 35-square-metre room with access to a PlayStation games console. His parents are allowed regular access.
“Considering his age, we have decided to move him to the immigration detention while waiting for the prosecutors to process the dossier and bring it to the court,” Taswem Tarib of the Bali Legal and Human Rights Department said.
“Indonesia is a lawful country, with a sense of humanity. We protect children’s rights. We consider that it is impossible to move him to Kerobokan Penitentiary because of the limited space and unfavourable conditions,” he added.
Southern Bali does not have a specialist detention centre for juveniles, and 11 underage Indonesian citizens are being housed alongside adults in the main Kerobokan Prison, nine of them sharing a single 15-square metre room.
Tarib dismissed claims that Mason had received special treatment as a foreigner.
“This is not a discrimination against Indonesian child prisoners,” he said, but he pointed out that the immigration detention centre was designed to handle foreign inmates.
Australia’s foreign minister Kevin Rudd welcomed the boy’s transfer, which came after reports that he could be moved to Kerobokan.
“We are also grateful for the intervention by the Indonesian authorities to ensure the boy has been held in appropriate detention facilities,” he said, adding that despite the efforts to fast-track the case and to avoid the customary four-month wait for trial, the process could still take some time.
“We respect Indonesia’s laws and will continue to work with the Indonesian legal processes,” he said.
Indonesian officials, meanwhile, have denied that there is any connection between the expedited trial process for Mason, and the extradition to Indonesia of a suspected Australian paedophile who is alleged to have abused boys while working as a teacher at an international school in Jakarta.
Tommy Watiliu, deputy chief of the national police’s special crimes unit, said that no deal had been done.
“This is nothing to do with that. This case is simply based on an extradition agreement with Australia,” he said.