To join ranks with at least 15 other Australians, whose names have been splashed across the papers in the last year or so, is another woman: Barbara Kathleen Higgs. Higgs has been arrested with a small amount of marijuana at the resort beach of Sengiggi, Indonesia. She faces a possible 10 year sentence.
Now Higgs' case is different than most of the ones we've been hearing about recently - who are mostly travellers and holiday-makers. It would appear that Higgs part-owns a hotel in the area. Thus regardless of whether the drugs were for personal use or otherwise, Higgs has even less excuse not to know the local laws.
What amazes me is the wide-eyed innocence that Australians seem to be showing regarding taking drugs through the Asian countries which declare and promote the death penalty for offenses relating to drugs. The Australian government gives out a little booklet with every passport which has big warnings about taking/dealing/buying/using drugs overseas. It states that some of these countries do use the death penalty and where to find out more information. It warns you to get a note from your doctor for any prescribed medication you may need to take with you.
Despite the Australian government occasionally asking for clemency (ie not the death penalty), it has been made quite clear that they don't intend to bail offenders out of trouble with these other governments. Frankly I don't blame them. Asking for special consideration for Australian citizens may mean offering special consideration for their citizens. And if the country should actually agree, then that country risks Australians drug running in force, understanding that the harsh laws to prevent it don't apply to them.
The message should be pretty clear by now. Stay away from drugs while visiting Indonesia, Singapore and all other countries with the death penalty for trafficing. It's probably safe to grow a small patch of hash in Australia, and share it with your friends. You might be fined for it, you could have a minor sentence, but you won't face the death penalty. It's probably okay to buy a couple of tablets of XTC or whatever does it for you at a nightclub in Australia, although don't get left with the whole bag if the cops raid the place. These things are not necessarily okay everywhere else!
Yet it's probably not ignorance. It's probably the belief that "it won't happen to me, I won't get caught". Even so, a smart person ought to be doing all they can to "play it safe" right now. Have a look at what's happened to the ones who were unlucky enough to get caught and remember that not all countries treat prisoners as well as Australia does.
VAN TUONG NGUYEN
- Arrested December 2002 for possession 396.2 grams of heroin in Singapore. Executed 2005.
- Arrested October 2004 in Indonesia. Sentenced to 20 years' jail for allegedly possessing 4.1 kilograms of marijuana. Could have faced the death penalty.
RICHARD JONATHON WARDILL
- The 27-year-old Darwin man was jailed for eight months in February 2005 for allegedly possessing four ecstasy pills on the island of Batam, Indonesia. Could have faced six years' jail.
THE BALI NINE
- Arrested April 2005 Indonesia. Renae Lawrence, 27, Martin Stephens, 29, Scott Rush, 19, Michael Czugaj, 19, Andrew Chan, 21, Matthew James Norman, 18, Si yi Chen, 20, Tach Duc Thanh Nguyen, 27, and Myuran Sukumaran, 24, accused of smuggling heroin en route to Australia. 2 death sentences (Chan, Sukumaran), life imprisonment for the rest.
- 24-year-old Adelaide model was arrested in Indonesia mid August 2005 with two ecstasy tablets. Sentenced to 3 months.
GRAHAM CLIFFORD PAYNE
- The 20-year-old English teacher was allegedly caught mid August 2005 in possession of four syringes and more than 2000 assorted pills on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. Could face the death sentence if convicted.
JOHN JULIAN PYLE
- The 42-year-old Adelaide computer expert was convicted mid August 2005 of possessing 1.8 grams of hashish at his home in Bali's hill resort of Ubud, Indonesia. Sentenced five months in jail, but could have faced four years in prison.