Aussie heroin trafficker freed in Indonesia

Renae Lawrence (C) of Australia is escorted after being released from Bangli prison in Bangli regency on Bali island on November 21, 2018. The first member of the "Bali Nine" heroin-trafficking gang was released from prison on 21 November after serving 13 years, in a case that caused a huge diplomatic rift between Indonesia and Australia. (Photo by SONNY TUMBELAKA / AFP)

BANGLI, Indonesia — The first member of the “Bali Nine” heroin-trafficking gang was released from prison Wednesday after serving 13 years, in a case that caused a huge diplomatic rift between Indonesia and Australia.

Renae Lawrence, 41, the only female member of the group, was arrested in 2005 when authorities caught her with 2.6 kilograms (5.7 pounds) of heroin strapped to her body as she tried to fly out of the international airport on the holiday island of Bali.

She was initially handed a life term, but her sentence was later reduced to 20 years and then further cut due to good behavior.

Surrounded by immigration officials and a swarm of media who jostled to get a picture of her, Lawrence left Bangli prison shortly after 5:00 pm (0900 GMT) and got into a waiting car.

It is likely that Lawrence will be deported shortly after her release.

“We’ll put her on a blacklist which bans her for life from ever coming back to Indonesia,” said Agato Simamora, head of Bali’s immigration department.

Earlier Wednesday, Bangli prison chief Made Suwendra told AFP that Lawrence was healthy and ready to leave prison.

“She seems to be happy, but also a bit nervous,” Suwendra said.

Firing squad

The Australian Police Commissioner for the state of New South Wales, Mick Fuller, told The Australian newspaper there were two outstanding arrest warrants for Lawrence and that they will speak to her when she returns to the country.

Reports in Australian media said Lawrence could face arrest once she is back home over a high-speed chase involving a stolen vehicle dating back to just before she was arrested in Indonesia.

Of the nine in the original group, ringleaders Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan were executed by firing squad in 2015, sparking a diplomatic row between Australia and Indonesia, which has some of the world’s strictest drug laws including the death penalty.

Another member, Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen, died in prison in June from stomach cancer, while the remaining five are currently serving life sentences.

Some critics have lashed out at the Australian police for tipping off their Indonesian counterparts about the gang and putting its members at risk of execution in Indonesia.

Dozens of foreigners are on death row in Indonesia, mostly for drugs offences, with executions carried out by firing squad.

High-profile cases like that of Australian Schapelle Corby, who spent more than nine years behind bars for smuggling marijuana into Bali, have stoked concern that Indonesia is becoming a destination for trafficked drugs.

Corby was deported in 2017 after several years of parole.

Foreigners are routinely arrested for drug crimes in Indonesia, including a Frenchman busted in October with nearly four kilograms (8.8 pounds) of narcotics including cocaine, ecstasy and amphetamines, while an Australian was arrested in August for allegedly dealing cocaine to Bali holidaymakers.

This summer, a Frenchman detained for 18 years after trying to smuggle drugs into Bali was allowed to leave Indonesia after serving several years of parole in the country.

p: wjg

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