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May 28, 2005 - The Guardian (UK)

20-Year Sentence For Tourist In Drug Case That Gripped Australia

By John Aglionby

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

An Australian tourist was sentenced to 20 years in jail yesterday for attempting to smuggle more than 4kg (9lb) of marijuana into the Indonesian holiday island of Bali, concluding a trial that has gripped her country.

Schapelle Corby, 27, a trainee beautician from Brisbane, was also fined 100m rupiah (#5,800), although the end of the verdict was barely heard as the sweltering courtroom, crowded with family, friends, holidaymakers and an army of Australian journalists, descended into pandemonium.

Loud boos drowned out the cheers of a few anti-drug campaigners. Corby's mother, Rosleigh, stood up and shouted at the three judges: "Liar, liar. Honey, we are going to take you home."

Corby, who fainted once during the trial and has had to be treated for stress, cried briefly but remained relatively calm, although clearly stunned by the verdict. She mouthed the number "20" in Indonesian several times and then turned and told her mother: "Mum, it's OK, it's OK."

Her plight has galvanised Australia into an unprecedented outpouring of public sympathy for an alleged drug smuggler after defence lawyers claimed she was an unwitting victim of gangs who employ airport baggage handlers to stuff drugs into luggage.

It had been maintained that the drugs found in her unlocked surfboard bag were planted. The claim appeared to gain weight when it emerged that baggage handlers at Sydney airport had been involved in a drug smuggling ring that had been operating the day Corby flew to Indonesia.

Scores of people flocked to her defence after learning she faced the death penalty.

A former mobile phone businessman, Ron Bakir, agreed to finance her defence, several websites were set up to campaign for her freedom, a lawyer regularly flew to Bali to help and the case has dominated radio chat shows.

The vast majority of callers have been Corby supporters. One newspaper survey said 90% of Australians thought she was innocent. They included the film star Russell Crowe, who said the government should be doing more to secure Corby's release.

Corby was arrested last October when customs officers at Bali airport discovered the marijuana in her bag as she arrived to visit her sister, Mercedes Blake. The officials testified that Corby had refused to open the bag and then had tried to prevent them doing so.

The former student, who gave up her studies to help care for her sick father, vehemently pleaded her innocence.

Australia's media soon latched on to the case, with analysts pointing out that the clear plastic bag the drugs were in had not been fingerprinted and that her surfboard bag had not been weighed after being seized.

The country's government also intervened. It provided Corby with legal aid and allowed a prisoner, John Ford, to go to Bali to tell the court he had overheard two people in jail talking about the case and admitting they knew who put the drugs in the bag. Legal experts dismissed his evidence as hearsay upon hearsay, particularly as he could not name any of the people involved.

Canberra is now lobbying for a one-off deal to allow Corby to serve her sentence in Australia. Authorities in Indonesia, where the case has generated little interest, have reacted coolly to the suggestion.

Both Corby's lawyers and the prosecution said they would appeal. The state had demanded a life sentence; the defence has already prepared its appeal against the conviction.

Two QCs from Perth have volunteered to help with the appeal.

Some commentators have remarked that it is curious that Corby has won so much sympathy, while three other Australians who are on death row for drug offences in Singapore and Vietnam have won so little. The three are male and of Vietnamese origin.

During the trial, Jakarta requested additional security at its diplomatic missions after two bullets were sent to its Perth consulate with a note that there would be shooting if Corby was convicted.

Yesterday, anger boiled over after the hearing outside the courtroom as relatives and friends read out statements.

"I can't believe they didn't take any of our witnesses into account," Ms Blake screamed. "There's been no justice."

A family friend, Glen Jeffers, linked the case to the Boxing Day tsunami and the deaths of nine Australian servicemen in the relief operation.

An Australian boycott of Bali as a tourist destination has been called for.

Corby won support from Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton, whose conviction in 1982 for murdering her baby daughter was quashed in 1986, after her claim that a dingo had taken the infant was vindicated.

"I know what it feels like and how hard it is to keep your courage up under the circumstances," she said.

Australian consular staff visited Corby in jail yesterday afternoon. The Australian embassy said that she was "holding up well and remarkably positive given the emotional circumstances".

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