Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Schapelle Should Not Be Abandoned

Concern about the welfare of Schapelle Corby has been raised by a prominent mental health expert who has taken the time to visit her in prison in Bali. Dr. Jonathon Phillips claims that her psychiatric health is hanging by a thread, and has described her condition as being insane by any reasonable definition. His concern is that she is in no condition to survive life inside the prison, and there is no chance of her condition improving so long as she remains there. Dr. Phillips claims that “whether she's innocent or guilty, her needs are medical."

I have no doubt that Dr. Phillips assessment is accurate. Even without the benefit of his expertise, it is not difficult to understand that almost anyone in similar circumstances would be suffering psychological damage. It would take a very strong mind to endure such conditions and remain unaffected, and it is clear that Schapelle is not such a person. The questions that are raised by this are not about whether or not she is guilty, but whether or not her treatment is fair, just and humane.

Of course, there are still many people who believe that Schapelle is innocent, and was wrongly convicted and took the fall for somebody else. It is possible that Schapelle was telling the truth all along, and has been wrongly convicted. If that is true then it is a terrible injustice, and a grave tragedy. Others point to a range of evidence including the drug history of members of her family, and unsubstantiated allegations that Schapelle herself had been known to sell marijuana as a teenager.

Even if we accept that she is guilty, it would appear that she has grown up inside a subculture where marijuana is considered a soft drug, and casual use of it is an everyday normal part of life. As such, her own experience of the world would be telling her that she had done nothing wrong, had done nothing to hurt anyone, and yet had somehow found herself in a living hell. It should be no surprise that her state of mind should be so fragile as Dr. Phillips reports.

Many of those who believe she is guilty also feel that she deserves no sympathy, and that no special effort should be made to have her returned to Australia, especially at taxpayers’ expense. Indeed, it is fair to say that anyone who is stupid enough to smuggle drugs in Asia deserves everything they get. It is no secret what will happen to you if you choose to go there, and to do that, and you get caught. And yet, if it was your daughter, or your son, how would you feel then?

That’s why calls for the Australian government to make representations to Indonesian authorities for compassion are justified. There is no need to criticize the Indonesian justice system, or to question its application. We can acknowledge that Schapelle has been found guilty by a legitimate court in a sovereign jurisdiction, and that we respect that process. But we can also request that compassion is shown, on humanitarian grounds, to someone who is in great distress, and in need of appropriate medical care.

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