On the 21st of April 2005, we learned that Schapelle Corby would not be facing a firing squad because she was polite and had no previous criminal record. Four days before this was announced, on the 17th of April, nine Australians, known as the Bali 9 were arrested.
Was Schapelle’s life bought with the lives of nine Australians who were actually guilty?
As Schapelle sat in court wondering if she was going to die and why her lawyers weren’t demanding that the marijuana be tested and any hair in the resin be identified, Federal Justice Minister Chris Ellison was on the phone with Indonesian Attorney-General, Abdurrahman Saleh talking about the same thing.
They weren’t discussing why no one was allowed to look at the incriminating marijuana they were agreeing that Schapelle shouldn’t die since this would upset Australians.
Early on the morning of April the 8th 2005, Ellison went on ABC radio to announce a breakthrough and The Sydney Morning Herald gave the following report:
Minister steps in over Corby and death penalty
8th of April 2005
Senator Ellison said he had spoken with Indonesian Attorney-General Abdurrahman Saleh overnight in Jakarta.
"I indicated to the Indonesian attorney-general that Australia was opposed to the death penalty and that in the event of Schapelle Corby being found guilty that we would plead with the Indonesian government that the death penalty not be sought," Senator Ellison told ABC radio.
"At this stage of the court proceedings I understand there is an avenue for the attorney-general in Indonesia to make representations to the prosecution in the preparation of their submission on sentencing."
Senator Ellison said he believed Mr Abdurrahman had listened carefully to his argument.
"I believe that the Indonesian government are treating this seriously," he said.
"I believe they understand the concern that many Australians hold in relation to this matter.
What we didn't know then was that the day of this breakthrough, the 8th of April, was the same day that the last of the Bali Nine arrived in Indonesia.
Most Australians were pleased even if Australia’s opposition to the death penalty wasn’t exactly ‘news’. Schapelle had been facing an Indonesian firing squad for six months and although it was a welcome development it was hard to accept that Indonesia could be so easily swayed.
We saw twelve members of GRANAT, the anti-narcotics movement, walk into the Bali courthouse and shout, “death to Corby” with signs saying “Quickly Execute Corby.” Not one judge seemed to mind such undue influence. The police didn’t intercept them but when Schapelle’s lawyers didn’t even object it was clear that nothing short of the ‘hand of God’ was going to save her.
On Thursday, April the 21st the prosecutor in the Corby case, Ida Bagus Wiswantanu, having cancelled two court hearings because Schapelle was too ill to attend court, called for Schapelle to get a life sentence rather than the death penalty.
ABC’s South-East Asia correspondent Peter Lloyd said in “Prosecutor Seeks Life Sentence for Corby” on 21st of April:
Prosecutors also said her refusal to admit her crime had compounded her responsibility. The only reason to give leniency, they said, was for politeness to the court and lack of previous criminal record in Australia.
However, these grounds for leniency were nonsense. Schapelle had been more than unrepentant and unremorseful; she had been defiant. She had called her accusers, “liars”, “unprofessional” and “uneducated.” This was behaviour that had never been seen in an Indonesian court.
In Echoes of Corby case in French prisoner's tale by Matthew Moore, the Sydney Morning Herald Correspondent in Denpasar, April 16, 2005, compared Schapelle to a previous victim of Indonesian justice, Michael Loic Blanc:
"The prosecutor said, 'Michael is a very nice guy, he's very young, he's been very polite in the court and has no criminal record - I ask for the death sentence'."
So what was the real reason for the change of heart towards Schapelle? How would the Indonesian people be placated? Surely GRANAT’s display of public moral outrage and the Indonesian media calls for her death couldn’t just be turned off like ‘outrage on tap’ because it no longer suited the Indonesian government? Or could it?
From the 22nd of April there were no more signs calling for Schapelle’s death.
However, on the 17th of April, just ten days after Ellison’s phone call, the Bali Nine were arrested. As the story unfolded we learned that the Australian Federal Police had informed their international partners, the Bali Police, of the Bali 9’s plans weeks before they left Australia.
Mick Keelty, the head of the AFP explained that this was because the AFP had such a good working relationship with the Bali Police – the same Bali Police who refused the AFP a sample of the Corby marijuana for testing. It seemed that this good working relationship could be turned on and off as well.
The row that ensued in Australia was predictable. On September 28th, 2005, Robyn Grace in an article for News.com called Death penalty row in Bali nine case interviewed Australia’s Attorney General, Phillip Ruddock:
The agreements that we have with other countries, particularly those who impose a death penalty, is that we will not provide co-operation in relation to criminal matters unless there is an assurance that a death penalty will not be sought," Mr Ruddock said.
Let’s be clear here. The AFP didn’t assist Indonesia’s investigation or co-operate on a criminal matter that Indonesia had under investigation. The AFP were the informants and handed over the entire case. Had they not done so, the Bali 9 in all probability would not have been detected in Indonesia and would have been arrested on their return to Sydney. Australia was, after all, the victim nation.
Why would the AFP give the appearance of flouting the law to deliver nine young Australians to an Indonesian firing Squad? The answer to that is that the AFP did not break the law. Some of the Bali 9 launched a court challenge over this very matter and the court decision stated that until the Bali 9 had been formally charged the AFP were free to assist and co-operate with Indonesian law enforcement on this matter.
However, the intention of the law was to prevent Australia assisting foreign countries to execute our citizens. It was common knowledge that Indonesia doesn’t make formal charges immediately and the conversation that Ellison had with Saleh on the 8th of April about saving Schapelle’s life should have alerted them to the fact that the Indonesian court executes transnational drug traffickers.
What this means is that in countries where the death penalty usually applies to certain crimes, we needn’t seek “assurance that a death penalty will not be sought,” as Ruddock so eloquently put it, we need only seek an assurance that they will not formally charge the defendant until the investigations are completed at which point the law that prevents us from assisting nations to execute our citizens becomes a joke.
When they broke the intention of the law by using this loophole, this government has shown itself to be morally bankrupt. And, regardless of how people feel about the Bali 9 now, the reality of having six more Australians die in Indonesia will have a profound impact on this nation for a very long time. And, the fact that our government caused it to happen will take its toll.
While Mick Keelty can claim that there were ‘operational reasons’ for informing the Bali Police of this heroin syndicate, how can any possible benefits compare to the cultural damage to Australian/Indonesian relations and the political fallout for the Howard government, all of which was predictable?
I assume the Australian government would appeal for clemency? Or, would the overwhelming sense of hypocracy after handing these Australians to the Indonesian authorities on a plate knowing they faced execution make such an appeal so insincere as to make attempting it, look rather foolish?
I realise I cannot claim to know that Schapelle’s life was saved by swapping one death penalty for six others when Chris Ellison and Abdurraman Saleh were speaking on the 8th of April. However, I find it hard to understand how a conversation concerning Schapelle Corby and Australia’s abhorence of the death penalty could have taken place on the day that the last of the Bali 9 were delivered up to the Bali Police on offences that carried the death penalty. What did Ellison say? “Oh, by the way, on the subject of death…”
Why would Schapelle’s life even be worth the lives of six other Australians? Was it because the Australian government knew that had Schapelle been sentenced to death, the evidence against her would have undergone far closer scrutiny?
Would Schapelle's impending death cause people to notice that all the physical evidence was either not collected, vetoed or deemed “not necessary,” by the Bali Police, including an examination by the defendant of the incriminating evidence, a right guaranteed by the United Nations?
Would they notice that every action and decision made by Schapelle's Indonesian lawyers supported the interests of the Indonesian government and not Schapelle?
Our government was begging for the life of one Australian charged with a capital offence on the same day that we completed delivery for nine other Australians to be charged with a similar offence – the transnational trafficking of drugs.
What’s more, the Australian government acted with the knowledge that the Indonesian government required an Australian to be executed for a capital drugs offence.
Was this why the Bali Police planted marijuana on Schapelle to begin with? To qualify for International ‘War on Drugs’ funding?