Paradise Lost: Travellers Beware
Beautiful Beaches – yes; relaxed lifestyle – yes; competitive prices – yes; the same laws as at home – no!
Yet again an Australian citizen has made headlines in the national media in relation to alleged drug offences committed in Bali, Indonesia. This time it is a 14-year-old boy who is facing trial in the Indonesian Court system over offences relating to marijuana possession.
He was arrested at a street market early into his family’s Bali holiday, and Indonesian authorities allege he was in possession of 3.6 grams of marijuana at the time of his arrest. As a result of being charged, this boy has been held in prison pending his trial and his family’s Bali holiday has become a nightmare.
Many people may be surprised that this could occur. With our relatively liberalised marijuana laws, if this boy was arrested in Australia with such an amount it is likely that he would be warned or issued with a fine at worst. There certainly would not be any time in prison for what an Australian Court would regard as a less serious offence.
So, why is there a difference between what would happen here in Australia and what is happening in Bali? It must be understood that while the countries may share some values, the legal systems can be very different. Drug offences are among the more serious offences in the Indonesian system and those accused of crimes involving drugs may incur substantial penalties. While Australians may love Bali due to its attractive beaches, relaxed lifestyle and competitive shopping, Indonesia, like many parts of Asia, can pose significant legal difficulties for unwary travellers or those who take risks.
Even a relatively minor theft may be addressed differently at an international holiday destination. In 2009 an Australian woman holidaying in Thailand stole a beer mat from an Australian-branded bar. This mat wasn’t worth much and if the offence had been committed in Australia it would have been a very low level theft. However, the woman was kept in a police cell for 48 hours before eventually being convicted of theft and given a six month suspended gaol sentence.
Due to the conviction that has now been recorded against her, she is now banned from entering the United States for seven years and cannot attend Disneyland with her daughters as she had intended to do. While this is certainly a price to pay, it is fortunate that she was granted freedom relatively quickly.
These incidences will continue, as long as Australian travellers lured by the possibility of a cheap holiday in a tropical paradise do not do their research in relation to the potential pitfalls of any misbehaviour. Travellers need to be very careful to familiarise themselves with the culture and laws of their intended destination.
If they do they should be able to enjoy cheap shopping, beautiful beaches and a great time, without ever seeing the inside of a gaol cell.