The Division of East-West Drug Attitudes

Another Westerner has fallen into the trap of believing the British Empire stretches from ‘sea to shining sea’. Unfortunately for Lindsay Sandiford, the fifty seven year old grandmother convicted of trafficking drugs in Bali, that presumption may have cost her life.

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It’s a story we hear time and time again, and yet it continues to stun Westerners. The lovely destination of Bali is the backdrop to Sandiford’s nightmare. Last May she was arrested after a routine bag check for being involved in a cocaine smuggling ring, with three other Britons. Whilst Sandiford is adamant she was forced into the ordeal, in order to protect her children, it begs to question how a pleading innocent, legal secretary from Teesside can get wrapped up in such horror story.

She is not alone in her failure to realise the harsh reality of eastern drug attitudes, in June of this year a Briton, accused of being part of a gang plotting to smuggle large quantities of cannabis into Egypt, was given the death penalty. In response to the case a Foreign Office Spokeswoman said: “We are opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances. Our consular team in Cairo are in contact with the British national involved and we will do our utmost to prevent this execution.” Britain should be proud, despite several criticisms of the European Convention on Human Rights, that we do strive to uphold civil liberties. I do not agree with the frivolous use of the death penalty, however the crime did not occur in Britain. It is a difficult to determine where we can intervene. In Sandiford’s case there was even discussions about a prisoner swap, for the extradition of British national, Rafat Ali Rizvi, for allegedly stealing funds from Indonesia’s collapsed Bank Century. The escalation of Sandiford’s case seems to have gone from fifteen-year prison sentence, to death penalty to the opportunity of a political manoeuvre for the Indonesia government.

Sandiford does have one last escape route- pleading for clemency from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Although this may seem an unlikely loop hole, the President has pardoned four drug dealers since taking office in 2004, according to Colin Freeman from the Telegraph. Although Freeman also notes that as foreign national, she has little hope. However, perhaps the lack of widespread publicity of this case is not the fact that Syria is the only news worth paying attention to, but rather that even the British people struggle to find sympathy for a woman accused of smuggling £1.6 million pounds worth of cocaine. It’s about time Britons’ holiday makers in the East, take note- play by their rules. Whilst many differences occur between East and West, with states like Colorado legalising marijuana and countries like Egypt imposing the death penalty on marijuana smugglers, it is clear that a divide is still very much prominent.

In my opinion, these appalling cases shouldn’t tarnish the image of countries with strict attitudes towards drug use such as Indonesia and Malaysia. We are a country that is too tolerant to heavy drug use of which is often accompanied by trafficking and prostitution. We often insist the ‘third world’ or ‘second world’ countries should take some advice in terms of democratisation, environmentalism and reducing corruption but this may be one area where we look to the East and tighten our drug laws.

Lisa Rumbold

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