By Sonia Hickey and Ugur Nedim
The only female member of the infamous ‘Bali 9’, who was originally sentenced to life imprisonment in Indonesia for attempting to smuggle more than 2.6 kilograms of heroin to Australia, is due for release on 21 November, after spending more than 12 years in Indonesian prisons.
41-year old Renae Lawrence will be the first of the group to be released from prison.
Ring leaders executed
Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were considered the ring leaders of the operation.
They were each convicted of attempting to smuggle a total of 8.3 kilograms of heroin out of Indonesia and into Australia, and were executed on 29 April 2015.
The six remaining men: Su Yi Chen, Michael Czugaj, Matthew Norman, Scott Rush, Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen and Martin Stephens were all given life sentences. Nguyen died of cancer earlier this year. The rest are serving out their life sentences.
Five of the men submitted applications to have their sentences changed from life to a fixed prison term.
Scott Rush is the only one who did not apply.
Life sentences in Indonesia
In New South Wales, a life sentence means just that – a person is to spend the remainder of their lives in prison, unless they are able to convince a court to set a non-parole period.
The situation in Indonesia is different. There, those serving life sentences can later be granted a fixed term by the president.
Inmates can also become eligible for further reductions while serving their sentences, which are generally handed-out twice per year.
None of the men’s requests for reductions have been approved.
On appeal, Ms Lawrence’s sentence was reduced from life to 20 years – and she has since then been the recipient of a series of reductions, making her eligible for release this month.
Home for Christmas
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has not officially confirmed that Ms Lawrence is to be released, saying only that it “continues to provide consular assistance to an Australian woman detained in Bali, and for privacy reasons will not divulge further information.”
However, Indonesian officials have told Australian media outlets that her release is simply a matter of paperwork and last minute details.
Ms Lawrence is due to be handed over to immigration officials for deportation on 21 November.
Australians in prison overseas
According to statistics released by DFAT last year, 545 Australians are currently imprisoned or facing charges overseas, and one-third of them have been arrested for or convicted of drug offences.
The figures suggest that Australians arrested overseas rose to its highest level in six years during 2015-2016. The largest number of arrests were in the US (262), followed by Thailand (107) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) (100).
Some are on death row, although it is hard to get an accurate picture as some countries, like China, keep records a tightly held secret. In China, officials rarely acknowledge that the death penalty even exists.
Understand local laws
For Australians who travel, it is important to understand the cultural differences, religious traditions and local laws of the countries they visit. In some places, such as UAE for, there are harsh prohibitions about possession and drinking alcohol, and the penalties for breaking the laws are harsh. Indeed, it would be easy to slip up if you don’t know the regulations.
And, as in Australia, ignorance of the law is never an excuse.
In 2016, nine Australian men, including a Federal Government staff member, were arrested in Malaysia for stripping down to their ‘budgie smugglers’ emblazoned with the Malaysian Flag in public.
The prank was to celebrate Daniel Ricciardo’s Malaysian Grand Prix win, but the men spent four nights in a prison cell for their efforts.
After their arrest, Malaysia hinted at the possibility of them being charged with “intentional insult with intent to provoke a breach of the peace”, which carries a maximum two-year prison sentence under Malaysian law, and with “public indecency”.
In 2016, a Perth teenager was arrested during a week of celebrations with his soccer team in Bali when police found what was believed to be cocaine in his bum bag. He was ultimately cleared of all charges.
Some stories don’t have such happy endings though. New South Wales mother, Sara Connor is still in prison in Indonesia after being sentenced to five years for her role in killing a local policeman after a romantic night with her partner on a beach.