Getting caught with drugs in Southeast Asia has never been a laughing matter — the region is notorious for its extreme, harsh punishments for drug offenses. The island of Bali has particularly strict drug laws, and many foreigners waste away in its prisons. British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford is the most recent case, and she’s been sentenced to death by firing squad for smuggling in 8.4 pounds of cocaine in her suitcase.
It wasn’t her idea or her choice to sneak in the $2.5 million load of drugs, the 56-year-old said. According to her testimony, a gang threatened the lives of her children, so she allegedly did it to protect her family. Bali authorities believe otherwise — it’s their understanding that she’s the head of a much larger trafficking operation. She was arrested in May, and her alleged co-conspirators are expected to receive sentences tomorrow.
DrugJail.com has stated that Sandiford has mothered two “wayward gangster sons,” which could shed some insight on how she got involved with gangsters in the first place. If her sons come forward to say that they had some involvement in her gang-related affairs, it may have an impact on her sentence.
Bali’s President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has been criticized as being too soft for granting clemency to four prisoners on death row for narcotics charges. This could have influenced the thinking of the judges in Sandiford’s case, making them more inclined to give her a stricter punishment.
While this sentence is harsh by U.S. standards, Sandiford’s punishment is not unlike that of many foreigners convicted of trafficking in Bali. There are 40 foreigners on Bali’s death row, and although the last execution was carried out in 2008 a case like this is not unheard of.
Sandiford’s prosecution had asked for a sentence of 15 years, which many thought would not be exceeded. The fact that the judge went so far over the prosecution’s recommendation is a sign of an attempted increase in toughness on drug traffickers. The case’s panel of judges said that Sandiford had damaged Bali’s reputation as a tourist nation and that she had somehow weakened their drug protection program.
Criminology expert Jennifer Fleetwood told the Mirror that Sandiford may have been singled out to be a drug mule because she allegedly has poor mental health. Combined with her international passport and her desire to protect her children, she made an easy target.
Representatives from the British government and embassy are doing what they can to assist Sandiford and her family, but aside from a sentence reduction not much they do will be able to help. Human rights charity Reprieve is on Sandiford’s side, firmly convinced that she is not the drug trafficking mastermind the courts seem to think she is. They cited the fact that she didn’t even have the money to pay for food and water, let alone a defense lawyer.