Heavy Plant

Walk past a "Heavy Plant" warning and wonder vaguely if the trees thought it was for them; if whoever put it up had enough imag...



The biggest ongoing news story in Oz at the moment is that of Schapelle Corby, a 27 year old Australian woman who was found in possession of 4.5 Kg of marijuana going in to Bali.

To put this in context Bali is to Australia as Ibiza is to the UK, more or less. Bali falls under the governence of Indonesia, a state with some of the strictest - read draconian - drug laws anywhere in the world. Indonesia is also not noted for its' commitment to human rights, particularly with reference to its' judicial system. Corby got 20 years, the prosecution asked for life and drugs campaigners in Indonesia were asking for the death penalty.

Part of the intricacies of Indonesia's drug laws, which are designed to intimidate potential smugglers by achieving convictions with the minimum of effort, the burden of proof is shifted to the defense on a technicality. The defense that someone has tampered with your baggage is no defense at all. All the prosecution has to do is prove that the bag containing contraband is yours, not that you had knowledge of its' contents at the time you were arrested. The concept of reasonable doubt is dispensed with; if the bag is yours the contents are your responsibility.

Whilst initially this sounds unnecessarily harsh but if I attempted to walk through customs at Heathrow with a few kilos of grass I would have more than a few serious questions to answer. I would almost certainly be detained for trial. However, as with any incident like this there are complications. Australian customs have been sitting on a report that indicates that baggage handlers at Sydney's Kingston Smith Airport have been involved in drug smuggling and stealing from passengers, forcibly reinserting reasonable doubt into Corby's trial. Something the court didn't consider as the story was late to arrive on the scene and was broken by an Australian newspaper.

To further complicate matters prior to Corby's 9 young Australians were caught attempting to smuggle serious amounts of heroin out of Indonesia strapped to their bodies. They are the Bali 9. There have been real indications that the 9 mules have been coerced into this. They face death by firing squad should they be found guilty of drug smuggling. I hate to be a pessimist but without some really serious evidence of coercion they've had it.

Australia has naturally got behind Corby as an apparently blameless victim of circuses. This is despite the fact that her defence case is not particularly strong, and wouldn't be even if she were tried elsewhere. Much of the money given to her defence team by the Australian government thus far seems to have been targeted at Australian public opinion. The fact that Corby's parents have now taken on the Australian equivalent of Max Clifford to manage the media has done very little to persuade me that they are in no small part to blame for the inefectual nature of her defence. They so convinced that her innocence was self-evident that they barely seem to have tried to use the resources at their disposal. Allegations of bribery and corruption have seen Corby sack her entire legal team over the weekend and re-hire 3 of them. It's a right bloody mess.

In fact the entire event has been characterised by semi-constitutional and extremely partisan behaviour behaviour by everyone concerned. Jury trials do not happen in Indonesia, three judges were allocated to hear the case. At the head of this panel was a man who, in over 500 drugs cases, has acquited exactly no-one. He also, other than just stating that there would be no special treatment for a high profile case, started dropping hints that Corby probably was guilty and the trial would be swift.

The Australian government has so far put about $250,000 of legal aid the way of the Corby family, critically without stipulating that the 2 QCs, both with substantial training and experience of trials abroad, offering their services on a pro bono basis, were used. Only now that Schapelle is a convict has this been done. More legal aid has been put her way to try and strengthen her case, with negligible evidence, but at least a chance of getting the original conviction thrown out on an accusation of bias. In turn Indonesia's strong popular anti-drugs lobby has been campaigning for tougher sentancing with particular refference to Corby. Some of the ugliest scenes at court have been the clashes between Corby's family and campaigners.

Both prosecution and defence have appealed against the verdict. The defence against the verdict and an apparently biased judiciary, and the prosecution against an apparently over lenient sentance.

Whatever you think about the proceedings it is utterly impossible to talk it through with any degree of clarity over here, so you will pardon my rambling. All Aussies - 90% according to The Australian - think she's innocent and this is self-evident and none of the ex-pat's I know will touch such an emotive issue with a ten foot Polish national. The resolution of this is not even close. It's going to be long ugly and unpleasant and I will be thoroughly sick of the name Schapelle Corby at the end of it, which is a terrible thing to say about something that will decide someone's future. My own opinion is that she probably is innocent, but everyone involved has made it exponentially more difficult for her to prove this with every intervention.

That's the news in Oz...

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