Critics decry prisoner swap of smugglers

May 25, 2012 at 6:06 AM
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CANBERRA, Australia, May 25 (UPI) -- Critics in Australia and Indonesia have slammed what they believe is a prisoner deal involving a drug trafficker and several people smugglers.

Australia's Foreign Minister Bob Carr said there is no direct link between the release a week ago of three Indonesians convicted in Australia of involvement in people smuggling and the five-year reduction in the sentence of an Australian woman serving originally 20 years in Bali, Indonesia, for smuggling marijuana.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono reduced by five years the time being served by Schapelle Corby, 34, who was sentenced in 2005 for smuggling around 9 pounds of marijuana in her surfboard bag onto the resort island of Bali in late 2004.

Various reports cite other reductions to Corby's sentence that could add up to her being released any time from later this year to 2017.

A report in The Sydney Morning Herald said Corby's attorneys believe she could be freed in three months. But a report in the Jakarta Globe in Indonesia quote an unnamed prison officer saying her release could be around 2017.

Drug and people smuggling are politically sensitive issues for both governments as they try to curb the illegal activities.

Australia's illegal immigrant detention centers are overflowing with people having arrived on rickety boats after paying people smugglers for passage from Far East countries including Indonesia.

Meanwhile, governments in countries including Indonesia are wrestling with the illegal narcotics trade that inflicts substantial social damage.

Both Australia and Indonesia want to deter the activities by handing down stiff jail sentences.

But earlier this month Australia released three young Indonesians from prison based on new evidence that they might not be adults, The Sydney Morning Herald said.

Crew members of Indonesian people-smuggling boats who illegally bring asylum seekers to Australia are sent home without punishment if they are minors, the Herald said.

The Australian government is reviewing the convictions of 21 other Indonesian prisoners after complaints from Jakarta and Australia's human rights commissioner that they might have been minors when they were arrested for people smuggling.

Carr said Australia released the three Indonesians and sent them home because "it's the right thing to do," a report by the Courier Mail newspaper said.

Carr said it "could well be the case'' that the Indonesian government linked the two cases in some way.

"At no stage has the (Australian) government sat down with our Indonesian counterparts and said, we'll release minors from our jails if you consider a clemency application by Ms. Corby,'" Carr said.

"But if doing what we're doing for the right reasons on these minors has created a level of comfort in the government in Indonesia then that's fine by me. When it comes to minors it's plainly wrong that you've got these kids collected in people smuggling operations on boats at the wrong time stuck in adult prisons."

Carr also said "the Australian government has consistently supported Ms. Corby's application for clemency on humanitarian grounds."

Corby has been treated for depression in past several years.

But The Sydney Morning Herald also reported a "backlash" in Indonesia against the clemency shown to Corby and that reduction in her sentence should have a clear quid pro quo from Australia.

Long jail sentences in Indonesia for drug smuggling, regardless of a suspect's nationality, are seen as proper and foreigners shouldn't be give special consideration.

Hikmahanto Juwana, an international law professor at the University of Indonesia, said clemency is not just about legal issues but also is political.

"By granting leniency to Corby, the (Indonesian) government should ask for something political in return from Australia. The government should show the public that they are strong and not bowing to pressure from the Australian government," he said.

The Herald report quoted Henry Yosodiningrat, head of Indonesian anti-drug organization Granat -- the National Movement against Narcotics -- saying Indonesia's president is in danger of throwing away the country's sovereignty.

"This inconsistency hurts the public's feelings of justice," he said. "About 50 Indonesians are killed due because of drugs every day, 1,500 per month," Henry said.

Clemency for Corby sets a bad precedent for other countries to seek repatriation of their nationals held for serious crimes. He said criminals on both sides will start to ask for swap deals.

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