JAKARTA – Australian drug trafficker Schapelle Corby was granted parole by Indonesian authorities Friday as mobs of journalists camped outside her Bali prison and a bidding war heated up for her first post-jail interview.
Justice Minister Amir Syamsuddin announced that Corby, whose case has attracted huge public sympathy since she was arrested in 2004 trying to smuggle marijuana into Bali, would walk free from prison after more than nine years behind bars.
However Farid Junaidi, the governor of Kerobokan prison on the resort island where Corby is held, said that she would not be released until next week due to procedural formalities.
“In this case, even if we get the papers from Jakarta tomorrow (Saturday), we cannot start the process until Monday morning at the earliest,” he told reporters at the prison.
In any case, the 36-year-old will not be able to return to Australia until 2017. Her sentence ends in 2016 and then she will be required to stay for another year to comply with the conditions of her parole.
As anticipation built in recent days that the 36-year-old’s parole was imminent, hordes of Australian media flocked to Bali. A crowd of some 60 reporters, camera crew and photographers were outside the prison Friday.
Channel Seven has reportedly sent the biggest crew to Bali, with 17 staff dispatched from Australia and another seven locals on board.
Her sister Mercedes, with whom Corby will live on Bali when she is released, had to fight her way through the scrum as she arrived for a visit.
Corby is expected to say little on her release as a media bidding war is reportedly in full swing in Australia that could see her earn millions of dollars for her tell-all story.
There have been claims that the bidders would pay as much as 3 million Australian dollars ($2.7 million), although The Australian broadsheet cited informed sources saying that a more realistic price would be AU$1 million.
During this period, she will live on the resort island with her sister and family, a condition of her parole.
She will also have to report regularly to authorities in Bali and will be allowed to travel to other parts of Indonesia but only with prior permission from the authorities.
Corby, who has always insisted that the 4.1 kg of marijuana found in her bodyboard bag were planted, will emerge a changed woman after years in Bali’s Kerobokan prison.
Prisoners often live side by side in overcrowded cells, and drug abuse, fighting between prisoners and beatings by wardens are reportedly common.
She has suffered from mental health problems in prison and needed hospital treatment for depression.
Corby was convicted and jailed for 20 years in 2005.
The end of her sentence was brought forward to 2016 after she received several remissions for good behavior, and a five-year cut following an appeal for clemency to the Indonesian president.
Her parole bid was a complex, months-long process that repeatedly ran into bureaucratic hurdles. The process sped up in the past week when a Justice Ministry parole board in Jakarta finally heard her case.
Her application included letters of support from the Australian government, as well as her family, the Balinese village head where she will live and the Kerobokan prison warden.
But while many in Australia support her early release, some in Indonesia have spoken out against it. Eight lawmakers on Thursday handed a letter of protest to Syamsuddin voicing opposition.
They said a decision to grant her early release would run counter to Jakarta’s tough anti-drugs laws and would be inappropriate at a time when Australia-Indonesia ties were at a low after a row over spying.
As he announced that Corby was getting parole, Syamsuddin defended the move: “Parole is not a policy, not an act of generosity by a minister or the government, but it is a right regulated by law.
“We are a dignified nation, we enforce the law without looking at who the person involved is,” he told a huge crowd of journalists at the Justice Ministry.
In prison, Corby lived alongside other foreigners sentenced under Indonesia’s tough anti-narcotics laws, from people caught with small quantities of drugs at parties to those attempting to smuggle huge stashes into the hard-partying island.