Briton Escapes Firing Squad In Indonesia For Drug Trafficking, But Scores Remain On Death Row

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By Palash R. Ghosh | September 18, 2012 11:38 PM EST

A British man convicted of drug smuggling in Bali has escaped the death penalty but still may face up to 20 years in prison.

Paul Beales, 40, was arrested on May 25 on charges that he served as a middleman in the shipment of cocaine valued at £1.6 million ($2.6 million) and was also found to have possessed some hashish.

The property developer from Milton Keynes and longtime resident of Bali was specifically charged with selling more than five grams of narcotics -- an offense than could have led to the death penalty in Indonesia.

However, given that Beales was likely a minor player in the smuggling scheme, prosecutors indicated they would not seek the ultimate sentence.

Three of Beales’ alleged accomplices, Julian Ponder, Rachel Dougall and Lindsay June Sandiford, all fellow Britons, are being tried separately, although Sandiford is reportedly cooperating with police in the ongoing investigation.

Beales next court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 24. The other three face trials over the next few weeks, and their fates remain uncertain.

Indonesia has some of the toughest laws against drug smuggling and possession in the world.

BBC reported that more than 140 people are on death row in Indonesia -- about one-third of them foreigners -- and about half of the total languishing for drug-related offenses.

According to the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network, or Adpan, Indonesia is one of 14 Asian countries that, taken together, execute more people than the rest of the world combined. In many cases, the trials that lead to death sentences are frequently of questionable legitimacy.

"Only a small number of countries in Asia are still using the death penalty, but their actions cast a shadow over the entire region, with high numbers of people being sentenced after unfair trials, causing innocent people to be executed," said Louise Vischer, coordinator of Adpan.

Half of Asian countries have either abolished capital punishment over the past decade or have refrained from carrying out executions.

"The flawed justice systems in many of these countries creates a situation where people are executed after blatantly unfair trials where they have had little or no access to legal advice and may even have been convicted after being tortured into confessing," Catherine Baber, Amnesty International's deputy director for Asia-Pacific, said.

In Indonesia, death penalty convicts are typically executed by firing squads.

Michael Aquino, a Southeast Asia travel expert, noted that while Indonesia imposes severe punishment on drug crimes, the use of illegal narcotics is widespread on the vast archipelago nation.

“Indonesia's war on drugs is somewhat compromised by the country's size and island geography. The Indonesian anti-narcotics agency BNN [Badan Narkotika Nasional] does not have enough resources to monitor the country's endless miles of coastline, through which marijuana, ecstasy, meth and heroin manage to slip through with regularity,” Aquino wrote.

“This should not be taken as a green light to indulge, though. The Indonesian authorities are ready to make an example of foreigners who use illegal drugs in their jurisdiction. Bali's Kerobokan Prison houses plenty of foreigners who thought they could game the system and lost the bet.”

Perhaps the most prominent drug arrest of a foreigner in Indonesia involved the saga of Schapelle Corby, an Australian woman who is currently serving a 20-year sentence for the importation of about 9 pounds of cannabis into Bali. She is housed in the aforementioned Kerobokan jail.

In the summer of 2008, Indonesia delivered a stunning statement to the world about its stance on drug smuggling. On June 26 of that year, two Nigerian nationals, Samuel Iwachekwu Okoye and Hansen Anthony Nwaliosa, were executed for drug trafficking. June 26 also happened to be the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking -- Indonesian authorities clearly picked that date to send a powerful message to would-be drug smugglers.

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