The current trial in Bali of a 27-year-old Australian woman, Shapelle Corby, arrested at Bali's airport with 4.1 kilograms of marijuana in her checked baggage, and the arrest last week of 9 Australians in connection with the discovery of 8.3 kilograms of heroin destined for Australia onboard an Australian Airlines flight, are raising concerns that Indonesia's handling of these cases will damage relations between Canberra and Jakarta and cause a "tourism backlash" of Australians deciding not to take their holiday in Bali.
While one on-line poll shows nearly 70% of Australians support Indonesia's handling of these drug cases, there are spirited debates on local travel forums questioning the integrity of the Indonesian legal system and the policy of capital punishment for convicted drug smugglers. Joining the debate, websites have sprung-up circulating petitions demanding the Australian woman's immediate release from jail and threatening a travel boycott against Bali unless this demand is met. Media observers suggest it may only a matter of time before similar petitions appear demanding the release of the newly arrested "Bali 9."
A Changing Indonesia
It is more than a little ironic that some Australians find their relationships with a free and democratically evolving Indonesia more problematic than with the autocratic Indonesia of the Soeharto-era.
Strangely, some of the same people who cheered Indonesia's first bold steps towards freedom and democracy now think it their right to dictate the twists and turns in Indonesia's struggle to master its own destiny. This minority, calling for travel boycotts and signing petitions as they go, want Indonesia to call a time out, suspending efforts to create a civil society based on law, whenever a single Australian is at risk.
Bowing to threats of economic boycotts, Indonesians are expected to suspend their anger and indignation at those who endanger the lives and welfare of our children and cost the Indonesian economy an estimated US$2.5 billion each year.
The arguments used and the logic employed by those protesting Indonesia's anti-drug policies are equally skewed: By all means strive to build a just society providing your nation-building efforts conform perfectly with the protestors' pre-conceived notions of "justice" and remain subservient to any of Australia's interests, no matter how narrow.
Equally repugnant and degrading has been the suggestion made by some that the financial and humanitarian aid given to Indonesia by Australia following the December tsunami disaster should somehow qualify Australian lawbreakers in Bali for a complimentary "get out of jail" card.
Bali is Not the Problem
On a human level, we have great empathy for the very difficult situation in which Ms. Corby and the "Bali 9" now find themselves and pray they are afforded every opportunity for a defense afforded by the law.
Without wishing to prejudice either case, clearly both revolve around the alleged discovery of large quantities of illicit drugs in the possession of Australian tourists visiting Bali.
No persuasive argument has been advanced that portrays Indonesia as anything other than co-victims in both these cases – suffering the double-edged ill-effects of seeing their homeland invaded by the international drug trade and receiving the onerous responsibility of administering the legal process against the Australians caught with drugs in their possession in Indonesia.
Damned if We Do; Damned if We Don't
Efforts to cast Indonesia as the bad guys in the current imbroglio won't wash. We defy anyone to discern any logical motive that would benefit local law enforcement or judicial officials in their current quagmire of processing these cases through the Indonesian legal system.
The suggestion that Ms. Corby or the "Bali 9" were somehow "set-up" by Indonesian authorities also fails to stand up to even the most cursory examination. Given the high street-value of the drugs seized in each case, the substantial cost to Indonesia in processing these individuals through its legal system, and the potential negative fall-out effects to Bali's tourism industry - make it impossible to conceive any scenario that supports a plausible local motive for such an expensive and complicated entrapment scheme.
Dealing with the final legal disposition of these cases won't be pretty or easy.
At the same time, civic duty and efforts to create a civil society based on the rule of law compel all those involved to tough it out and see these cases through to the bitter end, knowing full-well that no one will find the end result completely to their liking.
Those signing petitions and threatening Indonesia tourism with dire consequences are themselves guilty of pre-judging the Indonesian legal system, trying to prejudice the judicial outcome in a specific direction.
Rah-rah cheerleaders and bully-boy tactics have no place in courts of law.
Similarly myopic are those who base their opposition to the handling of these cases solely on Indonesia's continuing use of the death penalty in felony drug cases. Frankly, we think this argument, as it is currently presented, lacks a certain moral consistency.
It should be noted that a lively debate over the morality and effectiveness of capital punishment is currently underway in Indonesia. Many prominent Indonesians actively oppose the death penalty. Consistency demands that those who feel the death penalty violates universal human rights should be joining existing lobbies against capital punishment in Indonesia as general principal rather than in its specific application to Australian nationals. If all life is universally valued, shouldn't current protests be in defense of everyone sitting on Indonesia's death row - regardless of their nationality?
Step Back From the Bully Pulpit
If the arrest of 9 Australians for smuggling large quantities of drugs in Bali last week is any indication of the size of the local drug scene, it's clear that the cross-border debate between Indonesia and Australia as to what constitutes justice is bound to be with us for years to come. And, in fairness, creating a perfectly just society is something over which neither Australia nor Indonesia can rightly claim an exclusive franchise or the moral superiority required to deliver rants from any bully pulpit.
On balance, however, each side does has valuable insights to mutually share with the other on a variety of important issues – including the gradual enhancement of our developing legal processes and cooperative efforts to protect our children from the deadly consequences of illegal narcotics.
Frankly, we share the view of most Australians and feel that those insights and suggestions will get a better hearing when shared in an atmosphere of mutual respect, minus any veiled threats of retaliation.
Tourism remains the best place to plant the important seeds of cultural understanding and mutual admiration.
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