Question Marks Surrounding Corby’s Clemency
When I first read about President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s granting of clemency to Australian drug smuggler Schapelle Corby in May 2012, I found myself asking quite a bit of questions. Among them, the first one was ‘why?’. As an ordinary citizen, the reason behind the decision seemed to be out-of-reach. Nobody appeared to know why, and the President did not seem to be obliged to explain his decision. It is the President’s prerogative right after all. The second question was ‘what’s next?’. Indonesia is known for its stiff penalties, which include life-imprisonment and death, for drugs-related criminal offences. Further, the President himself had a clear tough stance against clemency for drug-traffickers (The Age, 24/5/2012). As such, Corby’s clemency may serve as a bad precedent for other similar cases.
The questions had sunk to the back of my head as I continued preparing for my dissertation. Now that President SBY is making a visit to Australia, the nagging questions have revisited me. Upon recalling the case, the abrupt departure from Indonesia’s longstanding strong position on drug crime has indeed elicited debates in the society. The most prominent critics of this decision came from the National Movement of Anti-Drugs (Granat) who opined that the clemency had violated the duty of good governance and country’s moral principles (Kompas, 7/6/2012). Furthermore, the clemency was perceived as an indication of Indonesia’s weak diplomacy, which Human Rights Working Group equated as the government’s inability to protect Indonesian prisoners in Australia (Jakarta Post, 26/5/2012).
My search for answers did not seem to bear much fruit. The government seemed to provide some explanations, but some inconsistencies were observed. Justice and Human Rights Minister Amir Syamsuddin mentioned that clemency granted to foreigners was intended to obtain reciprocal treatment to Indonesian prisoners abroad, and not a sign of government’s withering commitment to combat drug-trafficking (Jakarta Globe, 24/5/2015). Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, however, denied any allegation on possible bargaining arrangement prior to Corby’s clemency (Jakarta Post, 26/5/2012) and asserted that the decision was founded on humanitarian principles considerations (Kompas, 30/5/2012). The bargaining in question was the release of three Indonesian minors, which took place around the same time as Corby’s clemency, who were arrested for people-smuggling in Australia. In response to this, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr declared that there was no linkage between the two, and that the release of the three youths was simply because it was not appropriate to have them in Australian adult jails (BBC, 23/5/2012).
Regardless of the fact that it is not explicitly mentioned, the practice of diplomatic efforts in dealing with foreign criminals does take place. In the words of Foreign Minister Natalegawa, Corby’s clemency was a reflection of “[the Australian government’s] commitment to protecting their citizens” (Jakarta Post, 26/5/2012). In fact, the Indonesian government would be expected to do the same when Indonesian nationals abroad are facing similar situation. Try to recall criminal cases that involved Indonesians maids working abroad, and see how Indonesians at home were pressing the government to protect them. A more recent example that clearly shows the presence of diplomatic intervention can be seen in the statement of Humphrey Djemat, the Indonesian Migrant Workers Task Force spokesman, who had openly remarked that the release of 72 Indonesian nationals from death penalty in different countries was the result of the President’s diplomatic efforts (Detik News, 2/6/2012)
Applying the same logic to Corby’s case, similar efforts must have then taken place. However, due to the inherent characteristic of diplomatic exchanges being held behind closed doors, it seems very unlikely that the real reason behind the decision would ever be made accessible to the public.
The consternation over the possibility of Corby’s clemency serving as a dangerous precedent to other drug-trafficking cases appears to be prescient. An immediate observation can be made on the 2005 drug-smuggling case, famously known as Bali Nine, in which nine Australians were involved. Two of them, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, were sentenced to death, and regardless of their attempts to appeal against the decision, they lost their final court appeal in June 2011. In response to this, Australian PM Julia Gillard expressed her disagreement to capital punishment and indicated her intent on altering the decision (Radio Australia, 14/5/2012). Following the granting of clemency to Corby, Julian McMahon, a member of the legal team of Chan and Sukumaran, heralded it as a sign of “flexibility of the Indonesian system” and a “helpful decision which is very important to the legal team” (The Age, 24/5/2012).
Speaking about diplomatic engagement, it is reasonable as well as logical to conceive that a country’s bargaining position is directly proportional to its leverage. Now with Corby’s case has reached this stage, it will be interesting to see what will become the £1.6 million-worth drug-smuggling case that involved four British nationals: Lindsay June Sandiford, Julian Ponder, Rachel Dougall and an unnamed British man, who were arrested in Bali in late May 2012 (Telegraph, 29/5/2012). Has it indeed set a precedent and will we witness more “Corbys”? This remains to be seen.
The understanding into the complex interplay between law enforcement and diplomatic intervention, especially when foreign nationals are involved, is intricate indeed. The fact that the real substance of possible bargaining that might have taken place is never for public consumption inevitably engenders myriad of guesses. Further, in the case of Corby’s clemency, the imminent likelihood of it being used to the advantage of the two Bali Nine death penalty convicts is undoubtedly worrying.
Is the decision to grant clemency to Corby judicious? Does it serve as an ill turn to Indonesia’s commitment to fight drug-trafficking? The answers do not seem to be readily available; or at least not yet. In the meantime though, let us hope that whatever the underlying force or cause behind her clemency was has truly been for the utmost benefit of our nation. Semoga.