Ross B. Taylor
When mother of two boys, Sara Connor (45) from Byron Bay, boarded her flight to Bali, she was no different to the 1.1 million Australians who head-off to our favourite playground each year, seeking sunshine, good food, change-of-culture and fun.
Two weeks later Ms Connor was sitting in a police cell facing an investigation into the murder of a Bali police officer. The rest reads like a story from a crime thriller movie:
Ms Connor had arranged to meet her new boyfriend David Taylor, 34 near Kuta Beach and they were enjoying the warm breezes and atmosphere that makes Bali so popular for many Australians. That was until the night of the 16th August 2016, when they went out for dinner and then found themselves sitting on Kuta beach around 3am the next morning drinking when things became ‘romantic’.
From what has been reported so far, Ms Connor and Mr Taylor ended up involved with an incident involving a local – and long serving - policeman, Wayan Sudarsa, who soon after lay dead with numerous stab wounds to his body from an alleged broken Bintang beer bottle.
As a result of police investigations, both Taylor and Connor have now been arrested and charges of murder for either or both of them have now been confirmed by the Police Prosecuters.
The first real shock for Australians reading this story as it unfolds is that the Indonesian Police and Prosecution can take several months to prepare their case and then decide whether to formally charge the couple. In the meantime, the concept of ‘bail’ is not readily accepted in Indonesian law, so often persons arrested can find themselves as ‘guests’ of the police for extended periods; even before charges are laid. This is what has happened to Connor and Taylor.
The second real shock is the conditions in which accused people find themselves are very different to those in Australia. And also the Australian Government is very limited as to what they can do to intervene and assist.
Welcome to the laws in a foreign country.
The other stark reality is that whilst a country like Indonesia has now embraced democracy, including the principles of the ‘Separation of Powers’ whereby there must be a ‘separation’ between political, law enforcement and judicial procedures, they are still very inexperienced and still vulnerable to corruption and inappropriate behaviour by officials.
We have seen this recently on Australian news coverage, when police instructed Connor and Taylor to re-enact the events that lead to the stabbing of the police officer. The re-enactment was carried-out with full and gruesome coverage by Indonesia’s media. It was an appalling spectacle for many Australians, but in Indonesia it was normal process.
Over the next week the Prosecution will prepare their case. Then the process of a full and public trial of two westerners will be played out on national television. The reality that the dead policeman was an ‘Orang Bali’ (a Balinese) with a proud record and a respected family will only make matters more complex.
Once the judge, who shall hear the case, is appointed he or she may exercise their right to have a ‘private discussion’ with the accused. How this is handled by the lawyers representing Connor and Taylor will be critical to their future and to the impact on her children back in Australia.
This case has a long way to go. In the meantime both Taylor and Connor will remain in very unpleasant conditions similar to that experienced by Schapelle Corby and the Bali Nine. And the Australian Government can only sit and watch.
The sobering lesson for all of us is that whilst Bali is an incredibly safe place to visit (with only .006% of Australians coming into contact with Bali’s police each year) we need to remember that, as is often the case in foreign countries, when things go wrong, events can spiral out-of-control very quickly, and when they do, the laws that we take for granted here simply do not apply in your host country.
Whilst sipping a cold Bintang on Kuta Beach is a great idea, perhaps at 3am it’s better to be back at your hotel around the pool; or in bed.
Ross B. Taylor AM is the President of the Indonesia Institute Inc., based in Australia: @indorosstaylor