Realpolitik scotches Corby interview

MICHAEL BACHELARD
Last updated 13:41 14/02/2014
Corby
Reuters
RELEASED: Schapelle Corby, at an earlier court appearane.

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OPINION: The Indonesian Justice Minister's decisive intervention in the Schapelle Corby release drama is a reminder of who's really in charge while Corby serves out her parole - and it's neither her family nor the hungry beast of the Australian media.

The tragi-comedy of Corby's tale is told to Australian readers almost exclusively by Australian journalists, filtered through her Australian family.

We laughed or rolled our eyes when she was swept, hatted and veiled, into an exclusive enclave with a paying TV crew.

We watched in bemusement as a photograph of her drinking beer with her brother was sold, stolen, then withdrawn. It was just another debacle in a decade of them, a source of amusement or frustration.

But in Indonesia, the outrage was slowly mounting. This was a woman released from prison early after the personal intervention of the President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, on compassionate grounds, because she was mentally ill.

That decision had already upset many because it reinforced the view that SBY is too close to Western countries and had bowed to Australian government lobbying, or special deals.

But now Corby, the object of his compassion (or his sweetheart deal) seemed to be laughing in his face.

She was not staying where she said she would in her documents; in fact she was at a villa where the nightly charge is more than the annual salary of a large portion of Indonesians.

She was drinking beer - celebrating, partying - when she was supposed to be sick. And she was planning a paid interview whose mooted fee, when translated into Indonesian rupiah, had so many zeroes that most people could only associate it with the spoils of corruption. And though they live with corruption from their officials every day of their lives, Indonesians hate it passionately.

Of course, with the exception of the interview, all Corby's behaviour - staying in a resort and drinking beer - was perfectly legal and normal behaviour for the 800,000 Australians who visit Bali every year. But she was no ordinary Aussie, she was the "Ganja Queen", and the spotlight was on her.

The Indonesian media became fixated on her behaviour. And, since the big media groups in Indonesia are intensely politically connected - Metro TV is owned by Surya Paloh, who has his own political party and presidential ambitions, and the big newspaper group, Jawa Pos, is owned by Dahlan Ikhsan, another presidential aspirant - the furore quickly spilled into politics.

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The Justice Department came under pressure and felt it had to act.

The clause in regulations that minister Amir Syamsuddin and his deputy, Denny Indrayana, invoked against Corby - a prohibition on parolees causing (variously translated) political upset, restlessness or "polemic" - would not be out of place in a dictatorship. But it exists in Indonesia, and Dr Denny dusted it off and cited it to stop her interview with Channel Seven's Mike Willesee.

It's hard to see that Corby or her family can push ahead with an interview now, paid or unpaid. Australians will need to wait to have their curiosity satisfied, and Seven appears to have lost whatever money it's already spent. What this means for her living arrangements will no doubt be made clear, but she cannot stay where she is.

Until Thursday night it was tempting for all of us caught up in this soap opera to believe we'd created a kind of Aussie enclave around the Corby story. The reality, of course, is that she is still an inmate of an Indonesian prison, she's merely been allowed, with conditions, to serve out her remaining sentence in the community.

Just as her arrest, trial and imprisonment did nine years ago, the intervention of the Indonesian Justice Department has reminded us that Bali is not Perth's northernmost suburb, as it's sometime billed. It's a small part of a very large, proud, sovereign nation with its own laws and customs.

These laws can, and do, rear up and bite.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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