Schapelle Corby vs Filep Karma — Budi Hernawan
MAY 30 — On May 15, in an unusual move, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono granted clemency for Schapelle Corby, a convicted Australian drug smuggler, on humanitarian grounds.
Corby’s lawyer told the public that his client suffered from mental illness and was struggling with life in Bali’s Kerobokan prison. The clemency slashed five years off Corby’s 20-year sentence for smuggling 4.1kg of marijuana from Australia to Bali in 2004.
While Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr denied there was any trade-off with Indonesia, Indonesian officials suggested something different. While dismissing any suggestion of a reciprocal arrangement between the two countries, Law and Human Rights Minister Amir Syamsudin said that Corby’s release “should encourage Australia to release Indonesians detained in Australia or reduce their sentences” (The Jakarta Post, May 24).
In parallel, we have a long list of petitions submitted to the President to release Filep Karma, a Papuan political prisoner who was sentenced to 15 years in jail for raising the outlawed Morning Star flag in Jayapura in 2004.
Just like Corby, Karma has struggled with life at Abepura’s Prison. Doctors at the Jayapura state hospital declared he urgently needs medical treatment in Jakarta. But the government takes no action.
In response to this, on September 2, 2011, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention stated that the imprisonment had deprived Karma of his rights. This act breaches international law, particularly the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, to which Indonesia is a party. Therefore, “the Working Group requests the government to take the necessary steps to remedy the situation, including the immediate release of Mr. Karma and providing him with adequate reparation.”
A few days ago, this appeal was explicitly echoed by the German delegation during the session of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Indonesia at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
If we juxtapose the cases of Corby and Karma, the contrast is striking. This contrast, however, is not about who suffers the most. Such comparison is unethical and unacceptable because human suffering is unique and incomparable between individuals. Rather, it is all about equal treatment before the law.
Under Indonesian law, both are convicted of serious crimes. Hence, both have posed serious threats to society, according to the Indonesian authorities. Importantly, Corby is a foreigner whereas Karma is not. Corby’s nationality puts her in a relatively stronger position than Karma in demanding justice.
Portrayed as a victim of a corrupt Indonesian justice system, Corby features regularly in the media, both in Australia and Indonesia, drawing wide public attention. Eventually, Corby became an issue discussed at the highest political levels of both countries. She is not just another tourist. So, when Corby requested clemency on humanitarian grounds, all of these elements arguably persuaded President Yudhoyono.
Karma is a completely different story. During the court hearings, he refused to acknowledge his Indonesian citizenship but technically he remains an Indonesian national.
Unlike Corby, who has her government on her side, Karma is convicted for treason. This means he is seen as an enemy by the Indonesian state. Being a political prisoner, Karma does not feature much in both Australian and Indonesian media, and perhaps only human rights groups and a Papuan audience will know of him.
Unlike Corby, who requested clemency, Karma refused to take this path and maintained his position that the Indonesian state has breached his rights, not the other way around.
Therefore, it might not be so surprising that the government pays minimal attention to Karma, even though the UN Working Group has made a strong statement on his case and the UPR session reiterated this concern.
One of the indicators is the government’s unwillingness to intervene when Karma urgently needs medical treatment. In other words, for the government, Karma is just another Papuan considered an enemy of the state.
What lessons can we learn from these two cases? It is obvious that nationality matters. More importantly, the principle of equality before the law can be compromised if it comes to the interests of the state.
Corby’s and Karma’s cases suggest that the rule of law can be replaced by the rule of exception if the interests of the state are at stake. Unlike Corby, Karma does not have Australia in his corner.
He is unable to mobilise such a wealthy neighbour and a strong supporter for Indonesia in the Pacific region. He may have to face the reality that the Indonesian government will do little for him. — The Jakarta Post
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.