Schapelle Corby will spend most of her productive years in an Indonesian prison, and as a convicted drug smuggler is unlikely to ever travel outside of Australia again once released and deported. Although a high profile case in Australia, it is unfortunately not a unique story. There are many other foreigners languishing in prisons across the world for drug offences, some awaiting death sentences, and many could have avoided their troubles by following some simple rules.
Rules to avoid trouble with illegal drugs overseas
Follow these simple rules to minimise your chances of getting into trouble with drugs overseas:
- Obey the law; don’t purchase, take or travel with illegal drugs. I recommend abstaining even in countries with liberal drug policies to avoid any mistakes like forgetting the bag of pot you put in your jacket pocket.
- Do not leave your bags unattended in public areas or in the care of a stranger. This includes the lovely lady you met last night or your local drinking buddy.
- Never carry anything into or out of another country for someone else. When I lived in Malaysia, the Government clearly stated that claiming no knowledge of the package contents would not necessarily save you from the gallows.
- Ensure your medicines are not considered illegal drugs overseas by checking their Government website or contacting their local embassy. Many over-the-counter medications are banned or strictly controlled in other countries, particularly in the Middle East.
- Lock your checked luggage to prevent tampering or theft. Better still, travel light enough to carry-on your luggage and avoid the check-in hassles and the baggage carousel shuffle as well. The United States has specific requirements regarding locks used on airline baggage. See the US Department of Homeland Security’s website for further details.
What happens if I get caught with drugs overseas?
In the event that you are arrested on drug charges overseas, be aware that:
- as soon as you arrived you became subject to that country’s laws, and your Government cannot intervene to free you;
- ignorance of local laws is not a valid defence;
- small quantities of so-called ‘soft drugs’ can lead to lengthy prison sentences or heavy fines; and
- countries like Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam impose tough penalties including the death penalty and life imprisonment.
Can your Government help you if someone is arrested on drug charges overseas?
Unfortunately, each year too many families discover a loved one has been arrested on drug charges overseas. If it happens to you then immediately contact your country’s consular officials who can help with general information about the local legal system and provide a list of English-speaking lawyers. They can also help ensure your relative receives fair and appropriate treatment whilst in custody, and help you provide assistance to them during their trial and imprisonment.
However, they do not provide legal advice, organise release from prison, investigate the crime or obtain better treatment than provided to the country’s own citizens. If found guilty, they will face the full force of local law.
One notable exception is for military personnel on active duty who are usually subject to a government agreement with the foreign nation that allows them to be tried under their own military legal system. However, military personnel on personal travel will remain subject to local law.
Remember, ignorance of the law is not a defence, do your research before you travel not while you sit in a foreign cell preparing for trial.
I have no personal position on the guilt or innocence of Schapelle Corby but I hope this article helps prevent others suffering similar fates.