Australian Media in Overdrive as Indonesia Grants Schapelle Parole

Australian drug trafficker Schapelle Corby seen here escorted by police to a court in Denpasar in Bali on Aug. 25, 2006. (AFP Photo)

Australian drug trafficker Schapelle Corby seen here escorted by police to a court in Denpasar in Bali on Aug. 25, 2006. (AFP Photo)

Bali/Jakarta. Convicted drug trafficker Schapelle Corby will soon walk free from a notorious Bali prison after Indonesia’s justice minister confirmed on Friday that she had been granted parole, bringing to an end her nine years spent as a guest of the Indonesian justice system.

“Corby is one of the 1,291 [inmates whose parole has been processed],” Amir Syamsuddin said at a delayed press conference on Friday afternoon. “I do not want to talk specifically about Schapelle. What I want to stress here is that this conditional parole is not a policy, not generosity of the government, nor the ministry, it is a law that is regulated and enacted by the government.

“Because of that, we, myself as the minister, we uphold the law and our nation has our own dignity. We uphold the law without looking at who the person involved is. One more time, do not force me to repeat, we have dignity, there is law in the country. We do not seek popularity and we are not afraid of critics. Enough,” the minister said in Jakarta.

Corby was sentenced to 20 years in jail in 2005 after customs agents at Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport found 4.1 kilograms of marijuana in her bodyboard bag. Her consistent denial that she knew nothing of the drugs failed to persuade the judges presiding over her initial trial and subsequent appeal.

In Bali, a scrum of Australian journalists crowded outside Kerobokan prison on Friday as Schapelle’s sister, Mercedes, arrived to meet with officials. A condition of the 36-year-old’s parole is that she will have to live in Bali with her sister until 2017.

A crowd of some 60 reporters, cameramen and photographers were outside the prison Friday, an AFP reporter at the scene said. Channel Seven has reportedly sent the biggest crew to Bali, with 17 staff dispatched from Australia and another seven locals on board.

The press conference in Jakarta was, however, subject to a delay of around an hour.

“Australian journos been staking out Indonesian Justice min Amir Syamsuddin all week for Schapelle announcement. 40 minute delay his revenge?” tweeted The Age’s correspondent Michael Bachelard at 3:10 p.m., before the press conference eventually got underway.

Earlier on Friday, as Mercedes emerged after the visit to Kerobokan, she told reporters she had received no indication of what Amir’s decision might be.

“We are just waiting for her to be freed,” she said, adding “please give us some privacy.”

A media bidding war is reportedly in full swing in Australia that could see Corby earn millions of dollars for her tell-all story when she is released.

There have been claims that the bidders would pay as much as Aus$3 million ($2.7 million), although The Australian broadsheet said informed sources had told it that a more realistic price would be Aus$1 million.

Corby, who has always steadfastly maintained her innocence, had her original sentence cut substantially. She received several remissions for good behavior and a five-year reduction from the Indonesian president after an appeal for clemency.

Her parole bid was a complex, months-long process and speculation began mounting last year that she was on the verge of release, only for it to again run into problems. It sped up in the past week after the parole board finally heard her application.

The process has been complicated by the fact it is rare for Indonesia to release foreigners on parole. However Corby’s bid received a boost last month when a French drug smuggler was given an early release.

While many in Australia support her early release, some in Indonesia have been against it, saying it amounts to special treatment.

Eight lawmakers on Thursday handed a letter of protest to Amir voicing opposition to Corby getting parole.

They said a decision to grant her early release would run counter to Jakarta’s tough anti-drugs laws and would be inappropriate at a time when Australia-Indonesia ties were at a low after a row over spying.

The Justice Ministry counts around 150,000 people incarcerated in severely overcrowded prisons across Indonesia. Estimates of the numbers of drug users in the Indonesian justice system go as high as 70 percent of the inmate population.

Australian Twitter users’ reaction to the lead up to the Justice Ministry’s press conference was generally split between gentle sarcasm directed at the media furor and support for the Queenslander.

“Are the Indonesians going to put #Schapelle on a lifeboat and tow her to Australian waters,” mooted one person, while another offered up the more slightly more supportive “My thoughts and prayers are with #Schapelle Corby at the moment, and I wish much comfort and privacy for here in the coming three years.” The Jakarta Globe

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