For Women Swept Up in the Drug Trade, Legal Help That Starts Early

Rani Andriani was just 23 when she was sentenced to death for trafficking three-and-a-half kilograms of heroin. From a family of modest means in West Java, she had been a bright high school student and a dedicated daughter. Young, naïve, and under the financial stress that affects so many village families, she was lured by the false promises of a drug syndicate and became a drug mule.

After serving 15 years in prison for drug trafficking, Rani was executed in January 2015, along with five other drug offenders.

Poor and marginalized women like Rani are vulnerable to being sucked into the drug trade, usually as mules. Yet in its eagerness to address the drug problem, the Indonesian government ignores the conditions that trigger the involvement of everyday people in drug trafficking.

LBH Masyarakat (Community Legal Aid Institute), a Jakarta-based human rights organization, seeks to challenge this injustice by providing free legal services to people who use drugs and people on death row for drug offenses.

This year, LBH Masyarakat went to court to defend three young women like Rani. By stepping in early, we succeeded in convincing the court not to impose the death penalty. The stories of Tara, Evie, and Siena (not their real names) are the stories of many vulnerable women in Indonesia.

Tara was a widow from a poor economic background. Her entry into the drug trade was through Kenny, a foreigner who claimed to be a rich businessman. After a few meetings, they started dating and Kenny promised to marry her. Madly in love, Tara would have done anything to maintain their relationship—even carry a kilogram of methamphetamine. After she delivered the narcotics, she was arrested. Kenny was never charged, despite the information Tara gave them about his involvement in the deal.

Evie’s experience was similar. After a few months of dating Jacky, a man who also purported to be a wealthy businessman, Evie was asked to hire a woman who would be willing to pick up a package from a courier service. Evie recruited Siena, who needed the money, at a beauty salon. After the two women picked up Jacky’s package, they were arrested and charged with trafficking four-and-a-half kilograms of methamphetamine. As in Tara’s case, Jacky was neither found nor arrested, even though Evie and Siena told the police of his whereabouts.

Tara, Evie, and Siena share a common problem: they are poor and vulnerable to drug syndicates. In some cases, a person charged with trafficking may be genuinely unaware they were ever in possession of drugs. In other cases, they may be paid, or under pressure in a relationship with a significant power imbalance. 

In defending Tara, Evie, and Siena, we summoned expert witnesses to provide critical extra information about the use of women as mules in the drug trade, shedding new light on these cases for the prosecutors and judges. In the case of Tara, LBH Masyarakat also argued that she was a cooperating witness—or “justice collaborator”—as confirmed by the Witness and Victims Protection Agency. These arguments were effective—none of the women were sentenced to death. But, given sentences that ranged from 12 to 14 years, all three of them still lost their youth.

For over a decade, we have been deeply involved in the movement to abolish the death penalty in Indonesia, and have provided legal assistance to people facing it. We also work globally to end the death penalty, including through the United Nations, where in April our government was booed, and where a consensus on ending capital punishment was not reached.

We know that in a broken and corrupt system where capital punishment is on the table, poor women like Tara, Evie, and Siena can be easily and unfairly sentenced to death. We are also aware that judges and prosecutors have very little knowledge about the vulnerability of female drug mules.

These cases taught us the importance of early access to justice for vulnerable people. We have witnessed so many cases in which drug offenders were sentenced to death because they did not have adequate legal assistance. There are cases in which defense lawyers take money from their clients and disappear, and cases in which lawyers are connected with the police—a clear conflict of interest. There are also cases in which defense lawyers are present and attentive throughout the process, but do not have the necessary expertise in criminal defense, the death penalty, or drug offenses.

We call on the Indonesian government to support law enforcement agencies and actors in the justice system to understand the conditions that result in women acting as drug mules. The Indonesian government must address the roots of our drug problem, not just its symptoms.

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8 Comments

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No one, absolutely no one should be murdered by anyone. The death penalty is barbaric and we need to be a more humane society. Breaching drug laws definitely is a crime that does not deserve very much gaol time either.

These women are the naive victims of rich and powerful men. They are not violent and have not hurt anyone or stolen from anyone.
They are the victims of men who have made them false promises . They deserve the right to live and the right to continue an education so that they can fulfil their human potential and grow into productive members of their societies.

Promises, Ha, Ha, blame the male of the couple;

These women were using one of the oldest forms of female employment, that is; prostitution.

I'll bet that these women had slept with these men to hook the men into marrying them. It's the oldest trick in the book for women that are poor and what to "get rich quick" per se.

So these women are partially responsible for their actions, as again they were seeking to "get Rich Quick."

How do you know these men weren't just Drug Traffickers?

Seems to me that these men fit the typical profile of a Drug Trafficker.

All of these articles fail to address the possible police corruption that allowed the Male Drug Trafficker to remain unscathed.

Comments?

Whether it was a male or female that these women were working for, that is irrelevant. They were obviously working for someone doing mule type work, and in this case yes they happened to report that they were helping a male do that work. Maybe they were prostitutes and that's how they met the men in question. Maybe they did sleep with them, maybe they did want to find someone to be with who had money and could provide financial security. So what? You sound like a very insensitive person. Wouldn't it be awful for you to live a life in their shoes? I'm sure you wouldn't do anything like that to lift yourself up out of poverty now would you? Then again how would you know unless you're in it? Obviously these men were drug traffickers, duh! Of course there's police corruption, and yes they didn't find the male traffickers in order to charge them. You're missing the entire point here whoever you are. That point is this: The drug war does not work, and using the criminal justice system in any society to combat or deal with drugs is completely useless and does more harm to society, for example the impact that these executions have. Please do some research on how effective current global drug policies are and you will find that they are not successful in any way. Anyone who says otherwise either stands to benefit from a drug war either financially or from being a professional moralist.

Killing is worse than drug trafficking. your government is committing the far more immoral act.

The saying goes, " Justice delayed, justice denied", its therefore imperative that all efforts are done to enforce early justice.

There should be a project that increases awareness about the consequences of involvement in the illicit drug trade by young women. The women who have survived should be included in these programmes so as to give their testimonies.

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