Two crimes: One involving the death of a policeman, the other a failed attempt at drug smuggling.
One criminal gets life – the other four years. Though not the ones you think.
It jars, or as they say Down Under, it doesn’t pass the pub test.
Australian Sara Connor, 49, is now back with her two sons in her New South Wales homeland town of Byron Bay.
She spent four years behind bars for her role in the killing of an Indonesian policeman Wayan Sudarsa. He died on Kuta beach in 2016 with 42 wounds to his head and body. Police said he’d been bashed with a beer bottle.
There were no independent witnesses so all evidence in the tragic and ugly case comes from Connor (who denied involvement) and her British boyfriend David Taylor. He got six years for that death and is still in prison.
The couple claimed they were drinking beer when Connor lost her handbag. For some reason, there was a fight with the Bali cop. They were originally charged with murder and faced the maximum penalty of 15 years in jail.
That’s the time already spent behind bars by Martin Stephens, 44, one of the Bali Nine drug runners now serving a life sentence for trying to smuggle drugs to Australia through Ngurah Rai airport. He didn’t hurt anyone.
He fears he’ll die inside the Lowokwaru jail in Malang, East Java unless President Joko Widodo orders clemency. Nine years ago, he married Indonesian Christine Winarni Puspayanti. They met when she was visiting as a part of a church group.
Stephens claims he can do more good in the community warning of the dangers of drugs than being held as an example of the Indonesian government’s war on narcotics.
Connor and Stephens’ stories are stark examples of different laws and cultures. Depending on the state, killing a police officer in Australia could result in a mandatory life sentence. A drug mule not involved in the planning would likely get under ten years with half spent on probation.
As the Australian Embassy tells visitors, “you’re subject to all local laws and penalties, including those that may appear harsh by Australian standards.”
“I did wrong,” Stephens said. “It was my big mistake. I’m asking for a second chance. I’d never been convicted before of any crime.
“My wife and daughter are struggling. My parents in Australia are doing it hard because of me. I want to care for them. Why should they keep paying for my first fault? What’s served by keeping me behind bars? I want to be a good citizen and contribute.
”I’m borderline autistic. That caused problems when I was a kid. Now I’m more mature. I’ve learned the hard way. I got out of my depth. I’ve always taken responsibility for my mistakes. I’m proud of that.”
Stephens, now 44, was a bartender in Wollongong (NSW) when recruited by the infamous Bali Nine gang attempting to smuggle 8.3 kilograms of heroin worth about AUD 4 million (Rp41.5 trillion) to Sydney through Denpasar’s Ngurah Rai airport.
They were snared in a 2005 joint Indonesian Police and Australian Federal Police (AFP) operation.
A decade later, ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were executed by a firing squad. The only woman involved, Renae Lawrence, was sentenced to 20 years. In 2018, she was released and deported. Meanwhile, Vietnamese-Australian Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen was given life imprisonment. He died of stomach cancer in 2018.
Stephens was shifted from Bali’s Kerobokan Jail to Malang with Nguyen in 2014. At the time, it was widely reported the men were sent to East Java because they’d “violated prison rules.”
Stephens denies this vigorously, “I asked to be moved to be closer to my wife and apart from the others. I don’t want to know them. I wasn’t in their syndicate which made earlier drug runs. I’ve always been known as the Bali Nine black sheep.”
Stephens said he’d reject a prisoner exchange unless compelled, “I’m much freer here than I would be in an Australian jail, though logically it would be better for my parents.
“I’m the only white, Western Christian among about 3,000 prisoners and I’m treated well. Malang has different rules. It’s 100 percent better than Kerobokan.
“I teach English and play the seruling (traditional bamboo flute) but I haven’t learned Indonesian. I want to keep my Australian identity and avoid getting involved in faction fighting.”
Apart from skin sores that are being medicated, Stephens looks physically healthy, striding through crowds of shuffling prisoners like a man with a purpose. He says his family and faith sustain him, though he criticises church “hypocrites” who promise to help but don’t deliver.
Although he gets distressed recounting his life, he says he’s never contemplated suicide. “That’s not me. I couldn’t do that to my parents. I love them too much.