DAVID PENBERTHY Tale of two drug mules
LIFE can maintain a weird kind of equilibrium. So it is that as Schapelle Corby is set to return home after 13 years in a Bali jail and on home detention, another foolish Aussie, Cassie Sainsbury, may well spend a comparable period in the clink in Colombia for doing something really stupid, too.
The yin-yang of incarcerated Aussie ratbags will remain in perfect balance.
Australia has been quick to turn on Sainsbury, especially in light of the many damning claims aired on TV last Sunday that blew gaping holes in her already flimsy assortment of alibis for her alleged cocainesmuggling attempt.
It was a different story with Corby. The cynicism that would eventually surround her was more a slow build.
Indeed, in the early days of the drama, after her arrest in 2004, many Australians believed she was the innocent victim of a stitch-up and treated poorly by the heavy-handed Indonesian authorities.
The tenor of the times was informed by the recent history of the 2002 Bali bombings, in which 88 Australians were among the dead.
As Corby was staring at a 20-year sentence for possession of 4.2kg of cannabis, the man accused of masterminding the Sari Club and Marriot Hotel bombings, radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, received a laughable term of 2½ years behind bars for murdering 202 civilians.
The paper I was working at in May 2005, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, stumped for the headline “A nation’s fury” on the day Corby was put away, drawing a pointed contrast to the Bashir sentence.
The headline reflected the public’s sense of anger at the apparent double standards in the Indonesian justice system.
It also reflected the much more relaxed attitude many Australians have towards a drug such as cannabis, regarding it as a lower-level narcotic.
I can remember colleagues joking they had seen more dope at university share houses than Corby had stuffed into her boogie board bag, or, as she still maintains, was stuffed into the bag by a stranger without her knowledge.
Unlike Sainsbury, Corby’s denials were initially regarded as plausible. Not because of any evidence supporting her claim to innocence, but because the nation felt so sorry for her it was prepared to ignore the possibility of her guilt.
There were all those emotionally charged court appearances, not to forget the superficial fact there was something so relatable about this knockabout, surfie chick.
It wasn’t long after she was jailed that the question marks started piling up.
There were the claims she had been framed by baggage handlers at Sydney Airport, with the Australian Federal Police unable to provide any intelligence to support her assertion.
There was a string of everchanging and often colourful lawyers, some later struck off or discredited, rallying behind her varying conspiracy claims.
There were revelations about her family, mainly her late father’s drug conviction.
There was the attempted book deal, prompting many Australians to muse whether Corby was benefiting commercially from a crime.
There was the apparent confession she made to Bali Nine drug mule and former friend Renae Lawrence that she had successfully managed to pull off two international drug shipments in the past before she got caught in 2004.
John Howard was Australian prime minister when Corby was arrested and tried. While I doubt there was a member of his government who ever truly believed Corby was innocent, Howard did an extraordinarily generous job supporting her.
He took a personal interest in her case after receiving a handwritten plea from Corby after her 20-year conviction.
He wrote a lengthy reply, stating she would continue to enjoy full consular support from Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade staff in Jakarta and Denpasar, including collaboration with her legal team, and that Canberra would also seek Indonesia’s support in making key witnesses available to help her case.
For all this, there was one comment Howard made to the media, separate from his letter, that summed up what would ultimately be the public sentiment about her case.
The same sentiment now applies to Sainsbury, as it did to those poor fools who came to be known as the Bali Nine.
“I feel for her,” Howard said of Corby. “I understand why there’s a lot of public sympathy for her. But I would ask the rhetorical question: If a foreigner were to come to Australia and a foreign government were to start telling us how we should handle it, we would react very angrily.”
Indeed, we would. Howard’s instincts were right. While he nodded his head towards the public disquiet over Corby’s predicament, he rightly identified another public sentiment — that it was a bit rich for Australia to lecture another country about its management of a problem that may well have been created by one person, and one person alone. Schapelle Corby.
Be it Corby, the Bali Nine or Sainsbury, all these cases share three features: naive ignorance of the laws of other lands, a baseless sense of indignation at the consequences of their own choices, and an impertinent demand that it is the job of somebody else, namely Canberra, to get them out of trouble.
In the Sainsbury case, I’m still marvelling that her family set up a gofundme.com webpage saying there is no chance she will get a fair trial “in such a corrupt country”.
How’s that for a moronic charm offensive against your captors, especially as they’re doing nothing more than upholding their laws.
If you can’t obey these laws, maybe a passport isn’t for you.