January 23, 2013 by Nash Riggins
£1.6m buys a lot of cocaine – in fact, 10.6lb worth. Yet is it enough to sentence a 56-year-old British woman to death? A court in Bali seems to think so – and its decision is just as harsh as it is pointless.
Following her conviction of drug trafficking, a panel of Indonesian judges has decided that grandmother Lindsay Sandiford is to become the newest addition to an intimidatingly-large number of foreign nationals currently sitting on death row in Bali. The international community is already up in arms, arguing that the sentence is both cruel and unusual; however, Ms Sandiford’s penalty is anything but unusual.
Indonesia falls within the “Golden Triangle”, one of the busiest drug-producing regions on Earth, and its authorities are constantly at odds with local gangs and dazed tourists in attempting to curb this issue and allow society to prosper. Accordingly, they’ve got some of the strictest drug laws in the world, and it’s not unknown for a foreign national to be put to death for peddling drugs within its borders – rather, it happens relatively often.
In fact, there are currently 40 foreigners waiting on death row in Indonesia, as well as around 75 nationals. What’s more, five such foreigners have been executed since 1998 for drug crimes similar to that of Ms Sandiford.
That being said, even the prosecution team, who were only pressing for a 15-year sentence, appeared somewhat gob smacked by Ms Sandiford’s sentencing – and justifiably so. After all, the panel of judges, headed by Judge Amser Simanjuntak, ruled that the reason Sandiford deserved the death penalty was because her actions had inflicted damage upon the image of Bali as a tourist destination, and were counter-productive to the nation’s war on drugs. These two offerings hardly merit a visit by the firing squad.
First and foremost, it’s ludicrous to assert that one British woman getting caught smuggling 5kg of cocaine has the power to single-handedly dismantle one of the world’s most profitable tourist trades. Last year, foreign tourists spent nearly $8bn in Indonesia – how the hell is one foolish woman’s disregard for the law going to put a dent in that figure?
The court was indeed correct in maintaining that Ms Sandiford has acted counter-productively with regards to the nation’s war on drugs; however, what’s the point of killing a low-level drug mule? A 15-year sentence is fair enough – yet the harsh sentence that Lindsay Sandiford received is one meant for a rich and powerful drug kingpin, rather than a bumbling pawn.
It’s not difficult to understand the government’s justified frustrations. Indonesia’s war on drugs is an uphill battle, as the country’s size and geography ensure that the government’s anti-narcotics agency hasn’t the funding nor the manpower to put a real dent in their nation’s rampant drug trade. In effect, all the authorities can really do is to make a harsh example out of the few drug traffickers that are actually foolish enough to get caught. Cue Lindsay Sandiford, mother of two.
That being said, even if Ms Sandiford were a reputable figure in the Indonesian underworld, handing her the death penalty is not an exceptional deterrent to other criminals. Indeed, in Ms Sandiford’s case the court has done nothing more than to glorify the catching of a courier who was tricked into fulfilling her role – probably for no reason other than being someone the cartel wouldn’t miss. For all we know, the gang who sent her may have killed her after her successful drug run, anyway. The real masterminds of this woman’s fatal predicament are undoubtedly upset about losing £1.6m worth of cocaine, but won’t lose a wink of sleep over Ms Sandiford’s death sentence – trade will continue, and drugs are flowing in and out of the country even as we speak.
With any luck, Lindsay Sandiford’s predictable forthcoming appeal will prove successful – because even if the Indonesian government is under the impression that the death penalty is appropriate in some situations, this is definitely not one of those situations. Ms Sandiford may be exceptionally foolish, but one would hope that this altercation will be her last flirtation with the world of crime. In the meantime, her story has once again provided a stark reminder to the rest of the world that reckless foreign travellers break local laws at their own risk. It would behoove them not to.