KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- A federal court today reduced to life imprisonment the sentence of a French woman who was the first foreigner condemned to death under Malaysia's strict drug laws.
Beatrice Saubin, 22, was sentenced in June to hang after she was convicted under a law providing the death penalty for anyone convicted of possessing 4 ounces or more of heroin.
But the three-judge panel that heard her appeal, while upholding the drug trafficking conviction, reduced the sentence to life imprisonment.
'This is the first step,' said Miss Saubin, smiling after the reduction in sentence was announced and kissing her attorney, telling him 'I owe it to you.'
Miss Saubin, dressed in a cream suit and white blouse, looked pale through the day-long proceedings.
Her attorney, S. Kumaraendran, said she could be released in as little as 11 years, taking into account time off for good behavior and the 2 years she already spent in jail.
Although more than 30 Malaysians have been convicted and hanged under the strict drug law, Miss Saubin would have been the first foreigner executed.
She was arrested in January 1980 on the west coast tourist island of Penang when airport customs officers found 1.5 pounds of pure grade heroin in concealed compartments of her suitcase.
At her trial, Miss Saubin repeatedly denied knowledge of the drugs and said she had been duped by her Chinese lover, Eddie Tan, who disappeared before he could testify. She said Tan had bought her the case and she was to meet him in Zurich to be married.
The trial judge said at the time he believed Tan did not exist. The appeal judges said there was nothing to change the evidence, but said there were sufficient mitigating circumstances to reduce the sentence.
'We would not like this case to be a precedent for other cases but in this case we feel it is right to reduce the sentence to life,' Justice Suffian said.