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Australians facing the heat
By Cindy Wockner in Denpasar - August 27, 2005

FIVE people were arrested when an Indonesian drug squad swooped on a dance party in Bali last week, but the name of only one has hit the headlines - Michelle Leslie.

The Adelaide model is not accused of the most serious offence nor thought to be a ring-leader.

The two ecstasy pills police say they found in her handbag is less than most of the other four are accused of possessing, and mS Leslie caused no trouble when arrested.

The reason the 24-year-old is the centre of swarming media attention is because she's Australian.

The man who ran the raids, Major Mardiaz Kusin, seemed almost miffed when, at a press conference to discuss the operation, no-one seemed much interested in the other four people arrested.

Miffed, but not surprised. An astute, drug squad officer, he could sense what was coming.

He'd seen it once, almost a year ago, when another young Australian, Schapelle Corby, was arrested for allegedly possessing marijuana, and then earlier this year, when nine Australians were apprehended in relation to a large seizure of heroin.

Before them, there was a man with more than 50,000 ephedrine pills and, later, a businessman with a small amount of hashish. They were Australians, too.

And on the same weekend as Ms Leslie's arrest came the news that yet another Australian had been taken into custody in Sumatra on drug-possession charges.

Bali police were astute enough to anticipate the question on everyone's lips: Is there a police campaign to "get" Aussies, who for decades have regarded Bali as their party town; a fun-loving, freewheeling island where drugs and parties are everywhere if you so desire?

The short answer is no.

The increase in the number of Australians having to fight for justice, and their lives, is a result of several factors. They include: the fight against drugs in Indonesia generally, the cleaning up of a once-corrupt police force, and the focus on Indonesian-Australian relations after the 2002 Bali bombing.

In another era, someone such as Leslie may well have been home safely from Bali by now, with a story to tell friends about her brush with Indonesian law. But this is 2005 and the Indonesian Government is committed to a tough stand on drugs.

"Our younger generation are being threatened with ruin," General Sutanto, the then head of Indonesia's National Narcotics Agency, or BNN, said recently.

He was referring to the country's spiraling drug problem, with figures showing about 3.2 million Indonesians are drug users and that 78 per cent of these are people in their 20s.

General Sutanto is now the country's new national police chief and has ordered a nationwide crackdown, backed by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Those such as General Sutanto and President Yudhoyono believe drugs have become the scourge of society, with figures showing that increasing numbers of high school students are using drugs, and that about 15,000 people die every year as a result of drug abuse.

On June 26, on the annual International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, President Yudhoyono sent a text message to millions of mobile-phone owners throughout the country.

It said: "Stop drug abuse and drug-related crimes right now. Let us preserve and build a healthy, smart and progressive nation."

And he highlighted how Indonesia had gone from being just a transit point for drug trafficking in Asia to one where drugs are now being produced and consumed in ever increasing amounts.

All this despite Indonesia, like its South-East Asian neighbours, employing a rigid and unforgiving anti-drugs regime, with death as the ultimate deterrent.

There's a concerted bid to put a halt to the problem. It has resulted in a larger presence of anti-drugs police and not just in Bali.

Raids on trendy Jakarta night-spots frequented by the A-list are becoming common. During a recent round-up about 100 people were arrested in a single night.

It's not just in Bali, and it's not just Australians who are facing the wrath of law-makers and law-enforcers, sick of watching the damage wrought by drug abuse and determined to do something about it.

Bali's drug squad chief, Lt-Col Bambang Sugiarto, makes no apologies for the aggressive campaign and says Australians finding themselves behind bars as a result is nothing more than coincidence. He says there's no campaign to target Australians.

"We don't differentiate. Whether they're Indonesian citizens, Australian, Asian or European, we treat them all the same. The law is the same for high-class, middle-class and low-class," he says.

Lt-Col Sugiarto points out that the number of Australian visitors to Bali is second only to the Japanese, so it's only natural that Aussies, if they're involved with drugs while in Bali, might find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

But he admits "surprise" that after all the publicity and controversy surrounding the Corby case, Australians aren't more wary of bringing in or using drugs.

When it comes to violations of drug laws, he says, tourists and locals are treated just the same.

Lt-Col Sugiarto says that under the former police chief, anti-drug campaigns were an order, but that under the new police chief they're even more strenuously pursued.

Hence, the increasing numbers of undercover cops posing as drug dealers, especially around the Kuta area in Bali, to lure unsuspecting purchasers, and the raids on dance parties, such as last Friday night's Vertigo Goes to Bali party, where Michelle Leslie's problems began.

He says that in addition to this active policing, the force has employed a series of preventative measures - leaflets, stickers, signs and posters pointing out the harsh penalties for drugs and the evils of the drug trade.

International tourists to Bali can be in no doubt about the fate awaiting drug dealers. Even before they get through Customs, the first sign is hard to miss: "Death penalty for drug traffickers".

Another reason we may now be hearing more about Aussies arrested in Bali relates to a gradual cultural change in the police force, along with an increased media awareness of the intense interest in any arrest involving an Australian.

It's been no secret in the past that if you were a policeman, the drug squad was the division to aspire to - it was where the big bribes could be demanded and received.

There is no shortage of anecdotal evidence of drug-squad officers with inexplicably palatial homes and expensive cars.

These days, however, with Dr Yudhoyono ordering a crackdown on corruption and a clean-up of the police force and the judiciary, it's become more difficult - even to bribe a traffic cop, to whom it used to be easy to hand over a few dollars to avoid a traffic violation.

This, coupled with the intense media focus on Bali, has made the occasional bribe much harder to pull off.

Since the 2002 Bali bombing, Indonesian media have become very attuned to what is news in Australia - it means a lot of money if they can sell good TV footage or pictures to Australian outlets on the side.

That escalated after the arrest a year ago of Corby.

Bali media were holding gold if they had obtained good footage of her, able to sell it to media outlets for hundreds of dollars, the equivalent of a few months salary.

Every time an Australian is arrested in Indonesia now, the media know they are on to a good thing.

The news gets out quickly and it's always more difficult to make a case go away or to make evidence disappear (with the help of cash) when the media spotlight is on.

There's really only one solution. Don't dare take, use or experiment with drugs if you're in Bali or anywhere in Indonesia.

Howard blasts Aussies carrying drugs
Australian PM says people know the risks in Asia Saturday, August 27, 2005; Posted: 12:13 a.m. EDT (04:13 GMT)

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- A lingerie model and an English teacher are the latest Australians arrested by police in Asia and charged with drug offenses. They'd better not expect any sympathy from their prime minister back home.

"It's beyond belief that any Australian could be so stupid as to carry drugs into any country in Asia," Howard told the Nine Network television this week.

His comment is a clear signal that Canberra is losing patience with its citizens being involved in drug busts overseas following a string of high-profile cases.

"We have told Australians -- young Australians -- again and again, don't take drugs out of this country, don't take them into Asian countries because you can't expect any mercy," he added.

"Now we'll keep pushing that message but people have to understand that if they defy that, and they get caught with drugs, they can't expect the government to bail them out," he said.

Compared with many Asian countries where drug offenses carry the death penalty, Australia's laws are more liberal -- few are prosecuted for possession of small amounts, and although there are tough sentences for major traffickers, the country has no death penalty.

The issue of Australians and drugs arose again this week after 24-year-old model Michelle Leslie was arrested a week ago at a dance party in Bali for allegedly carrying two ecstasy tablets in her Gucci bag.

The same day, Graham Clifford Payne, an Australian teaching English on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, was arrested while allegedly in possession of heroin and crystal meth. He faces up to 15 years in prison.

Another nine Australians are in a Bali jail awaiting trial on heroin smuggling charges that could see them sentenced to death.

The government began sending e-mails Thursday to thousands of Australians living and vacationing in Indonesia, warning that a police crackdown on drugs is under way. The message to all Australians registered with the Australian Embassy and consulates in Indonesia is "to urge you not to take chances: purchasing, carrying or taking any drugs into Indonesia is simply not worth the risk."

Earlier this year, Howard expressed sympathy for a beauty school student, Schapelle Corby, who was jailed for 20 years in Bali after being caught carrying a surfboard bag stuffed with hashish at an airport on the Indonesian island of Bali.

Corby's tearful pleas of innocence -- she claimed the drugs were planted in her luggage by corrupt baggage handlers -- and her harsh sentence sparked outrage in Australia.

"Guilty or innocent, I feel for this young woman," Howard said at the time of her trial.

Bond University criminologist and forensic psychologist Paul Wilson, who testified at Corby's trial that she did not appear to be a drug trafficker, said Howard's latest comments reflected a swing in public opinion away from Corby.

"I don't think there's any doubt when he (Howard) was making the comments about Corby, he was aware then that public opinion was solidly on Corby's side," Wilson said. "I don't think that's the case today."

Despite Howard's public denunciation of Australians carrying drugs overseas, his government still lobbies hard with Asian governments not to execute Australians.

That bore fruit this week when Vietnam agreed that an Australian citizen of Vietnamese origin, Tran Van Thanh, could serve a life term instead of facing a firing squad for heroin smuggling.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said both he and Howard made personal appeals for clemency to Vietnam's president.

Australia warns citizens it cannot help them beat Asian drug charges
(Kyodo) _ The Australian government has taken the unusual step of e-mailing more than 3,000 Australians living in Indonesia to warn them they will face severe penalties if caught with drugs, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer confirmed Friday.

The e-mail was sent following the arrest of two Australians on drug charges in Indonesia last weekend -- teacher Graham Payne, 20, in Sumatra and model Michelle Leslie, 24, in Bali -- despite other high-profile drug cases involving Australians in Indonesia that should have made the danger "obvious," Downer said.

"I just think it's important that we continue to remind people --no matter how obvious I would have thought it was to them. People just can't be warned enough," he said.

Prime Minister John Howard also warned Australians on Friday they "cannot expect the government to use its credit with foreign governments to bend the legal system of another country to get people off offences for which they might be guilty."

Howard repeated the "despair" he felt "that people can be so stupid as to take any kind of drugs into any of these countries."

He said Australians on drug charges "can't expect any mercy" from Asian governments and "they can't expect the (Australian) government to bail them out."

In light of the huge amount of publicity given to the case of 29-year-old Australian Schapelle Corby -- a former beauty student sentenced in May to 20 years in prison by an Indonesian court for trafficking 4.1 kilograms of cannabis into Bali -- Downer said it "defies belief that Australians would go into Southeast Asia and either use drugs or traffic drugs and think they can get away with it."

Nine Australians are facing possible death sentences in Indonesia after being arrested on charges of heroin trafficking in April this year.

Despite an apparent waning of support in the Australian media for Australians arrested on drug charges in Asia, Howard said as a parent he felt sympathy for Australians "who get into that situation," but he "can't defend the conduct."

He said the government was not losing patience and would continue to help Australians who get into trouble in foreign countries.

"That is our obligation and no matter how silly they are we still have an obligation to help them," he said.

On Tuesday, Downer announced that after lobbying from himself and Howard, the Vietnamese government commuted a death sentence on Australian Tran Van Thanh, convicted of illegal heroin trading last year, to life imprisonment.

And a report in The Australian newspaper Friday said the government was currently negotiating with Cambodian authorities to transfer Gordon Vuong, 17, from a squalid jail outside Phnom Penh to Australia to serve out the remainder of his 13-year sentence.

But Downer warned Australians to "take (drugs in Asia) a lot more seriously" and not to "think they can get away it," saying, "the penalties in Asia are extremely severe and there isn't anything the Australian government can do about that."

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