I was watching CNN last week and managed to catch the sentencing of Shapelle Corby.
Australia has been mesmerised by the trial of one of its own on drug smuggling charges in a Bali court. The accused is Schapelle Corby, a twenty-something student from the Gold Coast. The Australian media has been in a feeding frenzy over this incident, and only last week she was sentenced by the court to twenty years imprisonment for five kilograms of marijuana found in her bag by customs upon arrival in Bali. So what you might say? And you might be right to say that, after all, dozens of Australian nationals are arrested every year on similar charges and many of which are currently doing life sentences or awaiting death penalties. What makes this case different from these other cases is the accused; Corby. Corby is an attractive young lady with a strong Australian accent and tanned skin - she represents the all-Australian girl going on the all-Australian holiday to Bali. Bali is one of the biggest destinations for Australians, it is cheap to get there, cheap to stay there and could probably be compared to being to Australians what Mexico might be to many Americans.
The story goes like this: Corby, her sister and a few friends were going to Bali on a holiday to celebrate a birthday. It was Corby’s first trip to Bali and she had her boogie board (small lay-down style surfboard) with her on the trip. At the airport her bag is searched and out pops a 5kg bag of marijuana. Corby protests her innocence right from the start and the entire Australian media get behind her. Corby’s central claim is that the drugs were inserted into her bag when she left Brisbane airport by baggage handlers. This claim may not be as absurd as it sounds. Baggage handlers have recently come under scrutiny in Australia for being involved in drug importation and transport. Since Corby has been in jail, handlers at the Sydney airport have been arrested for being involved in a large cocaine importation syndicate. Furthermore, law enforcement officials have spoken out in support of Corby saying that this has been a standard method of drug transportation within Australia for some time. By failing to remove the drugs from her bag at the Sydney airport, they ended up in Bali – or so the story goes.
Of course, nobody is in a position to judge whether Corby actually did try and bring the drugs to Bali herself. The fact that a credible story has emerged as to how the drugs ended up in Corby’s bag has been a major boost to Corby’s credibility. Without such a story there would almost certainly be no public support for Corby and she would be seen as a stupid girl who made a terrible and stupid mistake. The presence of a plausible explanation is therefore the only reason that has lead to Corby becoming a national celebrity in Australia rather than being cast as a national embarrassment. This could have easily been the case had the drugs been found strapped to her body or inside her body, circumstances that would eliminate the possibility of them being planted without her knowledge.
This version of the story in Australia has largely gone unchecked. It has been trial by media at its very worst. The media have decided she is innocent and the public have gone along with that view, after all, stories of an injustice sells newspapers much more effectively than depressing stories of young people in foreign jails. The media has a vested interest in peddling the plausibility of this story and there is an absence of critical opinion to the contrary. The point is not whether she is guilty or innocent but that the media and the Australian public have already made up their mind. The Australian public have been given a portrait of a person that matches our expectations of what a good Aussie girl should be and have been given a plausible story as to why she might be innocent. Game, set and match. Add to this the Australian experience in Bali two years ago where a terrorist bombing killed almost a hundred Australians and Australia’s recent pledge of $1 billion in aid to tsunami affected regions of Indonesia and you have a situation where anti-Indonesian sentiment is able to be whipped up easily. In light of Corby’s sentencing Australians have been talking about a tourism boycott of the region and some have been asking for their tsunami donations to be returned. This brand of cheap racism is both an unhealthy expression of genuine concern and a disgrace to one the most successful multicultural secular societies in the world.
Corby has become a major political issue in Australia. After her sentencing last week it was revealed that the Australian government had been footing some of the bill for her legal defence and had offered the free services of two of Australia’s leading defence barristers. Regardless of this, she has been sentenced to 20 years in jail (the lesser penalty as death was on the table) and now all talk is on appeals, presidential pardons and prisoner transfer agreements.
We have heard of the case for Corby but what about the case against? This might be some of it:
- Corby is from an area of Queensland in Australia rife with drug dealing, drug production and drug culture.
- Corby is from a very working class family whose father has a minor drug possession charge and whose step-brother is in jail in Australia.
- Corby is of the right age-group to be using and selling marijuana.
- Corby was caught red handed with 5 kgs of marijuana in her bag entering Bali.
- No arrests have been made in Australia relating to her allegations that baggage handlers were involved in her case.
- No arrests have been made in Australia relating to who might own the drugs found in her bag.
That Corby is in jail when she could be innocent is a terrible injustice yet we are not in a position to be able to say. As many Australian commentators have observed, the judicial system of Indonesia clearly leaves a lot to be desired in many areas, yet this is not in-itself a reason to doubt that the outcome has been reached on a fair assessment of the facts. Beating a drug charge in circumstances like this, without evidence of whose drugs it is, is almost an impossibility. The Indonesian legal system has handed down the same verdict that I would argue would be handed down to anyone caught in Australian customs under the same circumstances. A similar situation in Australia would result in a probable term of a maximum of 5 years, not 20, but the verdict would almost certainly have been the same. The failing has not been in the justice system but the failing has been both in the Australian authorities failure to make an arrest that validated Corby’s defence and in the Australian media’s failure to offer a balanced and reasonable account of the arguments both for and against. The legal system will always be plagued by failures. Jails hold many people who are innocent and many guilty people walk the streets. Nobody is really in a position to say whether this is a monumental failure or an example of justice in action. This is the fact that the media and the public need to be reminded of.
Disregard continue here