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Australia accused of exporting death penalty over drug arrests in Bali

SYDNEY, (AFP) - A rights group challenged the Canberra government to say whether it is "exporting the death penalty" after Australian police assisted in the arrest of nine young Australian drug suspects in Indonesia, where they could face a firing squad. Australian federal police had been tracking the eight men and a woman since February and tipped off Indonesian counterparts about a fortnight ago that the group planned to smuggle drugs via the resort island of Bali. Five of the nine were detained at Bali's airport as they were about to fly to Sydney late Sunday. The four others were arrested at nearby hotels and a total of 11.25 kilograms (25 pounds) of heroin was recovered. The accused, aged between 18 and 29, come from the Australian cities of Brisbane and Sydney. Terry O'Gorman, president of the Australian Council for Civil Liberties, said he could not understand why federal police did not wait to arrest the gang in Australia, which abolished the death penalty in 1985. The last hanging was in 1965. "What has to be answered by the Federal Justice Minister Chris Ellison is why were these people the subject of an arrest in Indonesia where it's already been said quite categorically that if found guilty, no question they will be executed," he said. "If we're in effect exporting the death penalty of Australians to other countries and if there has in effect been a change in government policy, then let's hear about it," O'Gorman said. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the alleged offences were committed in Indonesia and its police had to be involved. "People have to know though that trafficking in heroin and trafficking in drugs brings the death penalty in many countries, particularly in Asia," he told the Nine Network. "If people don't understand that, they certainly will now." However Downer said Canberra would appeal for clemency whenever an Australian faced the death penalty overseas. He said he had met Vietnam's deputy foreign minister earlier in the week and pleaded for mercy for an Australian convicted of drug trafficking in that country. Justice Minister Chris Ellison defended the federal police decision. "It's very difficult for the Australian Federal Police to second-guess what might happen," he said. "You have to deal with the situation at hand and when you're engaged in the fight against trafficking in illicit drugs... of course you can't think of what might happen -- you have to work on an operational basis." Ellison said Canberra's assistance to Indonesian police had not jeopardised a separate hearing against Australia Schapelle Corby in Bali. The 27-year-old also faces a possible death sentence after being caught with 4.1 kilograms of cannabis in her unlocked bodyboard bag at the airport. She says the drugs were planted without her knowledge. Police made follow-up raids and seized documents at homes in Sydney and Brisbane after the latest arrests. They said the heroin had apparently been manufactured in Southeast Asia, with Bali used as a transit point to Australia. Relatives expressed shock at the arrests. The family of Brisbane man Thanh Nguyen, 22, said they had no idea he was even overseas. His sister Vanessa Nguyen told the Courier-Mail her brother had said to his family he was going to Sydney for a short break about two weeks ago. "I started to worry because we haven't heard from him since he left on April 6 or 7," she said. "I tried to call his mobile but it was engaged, turned off or rang out."

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All information is Copyright 1997 - 2006 'Foreign Prisoner Support Service' unless stated otherwise - Click here for the legal stuff
All information is Copyright 1997 - 2006 'Foreign Prisoner Support Service' unless stated otherwise - Click here for the legal stuff