CANBERRA, Australia – Australia denied Wednesday that it had agreed to treat young Indonesian people smugglers more leniently in return for the reduction of the prison sentence of a high-profile Australian drug trafficker in Indonesia.
But Foreign Minister Bob Carr conceded that Indonesians saw a link between the treatment of Australian Schapelle Corby and young Indonesians held in Australian prisons.
Corby, 34, learned in a Bali prison on Tuesday that Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had granted her a five-year reduction of the 20-year sentence she received in 2005 after being convicted of smuggling marijuana onto the resort island. Her lawyer said that since several other cuts to her sentence were approved previously, she could be freed in about three months.
The announcement came a week after Australia released three young Indonesians from prison based on new evidence that they might not be adults. Crew members of Indonesian people-smuggling boats who illegally bring asylum seekers to Australia are sent home without punishment if they are minors.
The Australian government is reviewing the convictions of 21 other Indonesian prisoners after complaints from Jakarta and Australia's human rights commissioner that they might have been minors when they were arrested for people smuggling. Police use wrist X-rays as evidence that a suspect is at least 19 years old, but critics argue that such tests are inaccurate.
Indonesia State Secretary Sudi Silalahi said Corby's sentence reduction was part of a deal in which Australia would be more lenient toward young Indonesians arrested for crewing asylum-seeker boats.
"That's how the Indonesians see it," Carr conceded. But he denied that Australia's decision was part of any reciprocal agreement, though both Corby and the incarceration of young Indonesians in Australia were on the agenda of a bilateral summit in March.
"We'd be making that decision about those minors if there were no Schapelle Corby and indeed no Australians serving time in Indonesian jails," Carr said. "We'd be doing it because it's unconscionable to hold minors in adult prisons."
Corby's case has attracted intense and sustained attention in Australia, where many believe she is innocent. She maintains she does not know how 9 pounds (4.2 kilograms) of marijuana came to be found in her surfboard bag when it was searched on arrival at Denpasar Airport in late 2004.
Her lawyer, Iskandar Nawing, said Indonesian authorities agreed to reduce her sentence because of her poor mental state.
Corby's mother, Rosleigh Rose, told reporters in the Australian east coast city of Logan on Wednesday that she would fly to Bali in July and "will be bringing her home."
"I think it hasn't sunk in yet. I can't believe it," Rose said in a statement.