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'Bali Nine' drug trafficker Renae Lawrence released from prison after 13 years

The only female member of the infamous heroin-trafficking "Bali Nine" gang has been freed from prison, three...

Posted: Nov 21, 2018 1:56 PM
Updated: Nov 21, 2018 1:56 PM

The only female member of the infamous heroin-trafficking "Bali Nine" gang has been freed from prison, three years after the execution of the group's ringleaders caused huge tensions between Australia and Indonesia

Renae Lawrence left Bali's Bangli jail through a media scrum after serving 13 years of her 20-year sentence.

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She had been arrested alongside the eight other members of the group in 2005, after they were caught attempting to smuggle heroin out of Bali's international airport and into Australia. Lawrence had 2.7 kilograms (5.9 pounds) of the narcotic strapped to her body.

A decade later, the execution by firing squad of the group's two ringleaders, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, was met with outrage in Australia, in what then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott called a "dark moment in the relationship" between the two countries.

Lawrence, 41, left prison on Wednesday evening in Bali, and is expected to be deported to Australia shortly. She will be placed on a blacklist that bars her from ever returning to Indonesia, immigration officials said.

She had initially been sentenced to life in prison, but later had the punishment commuted to 20 years and was released early on good behavior.

Lawrence has said that Chan threatened her life if she did not take part in the drug-trafficking scheme. She apologized to Indonesia during her court appeal.

Another member of the group died from cancer in prison in June, and the remaining five are all serving life sentences, meaning Lawrence may be the only member of the group to ever leave jail.

Police in New South Wales, where Lawrence is from, are likely to talk to have questions on her return, as there are two outstanding warrants for her arrest in the country relating to a high-speed chase involving a stolen vehicle, AFP reported.

The case of the Bali Nine highlighted the strict laws on drug trafficking in Indonesia, where several foreigners are currently detained on similar charges.

Last year, Australian woman Schapelle Corby was freed after nearly nine years in jail on the island, in a case which attracted similarly high levels of attention in Australia.

'Reformed characters'

Lawrence's release is the latest development in a years-long saga which has seen several protracted legal battles, prompted a severe diplomatic spat and generated significant media coverage.

It began when the members of the Bali Nine were arrested in 2005 by Indonesian police, following a tip-off from Australian authorities.

Lawrence and four others were caught at Densapar International Airport with over 8 kilograms of heroin strapped to their bodies, while another four were found at a hotel on the island of Kuta. Chan, described as the ringleader, was captured after boarding a plane to Sydney.

The smugglers fell foul of Indonesia's strict drug laws; Sukumaran and Chan were sentenced to death, and the other seven members were given life sentences in February 2006.

Several of the group's members saw their time reduced to 20 years soon after, only to have life imprisonment sentences reinstated on appeal. Lawrence did not appeal her 20-year sentence.

Australia repeatedly pleaded for clemency over Sukumaran and Chan's executions, only to have their appeals denied. The two men's legal teams had also fought for years to have their sentences reduced.

"Both men are reformed characters and both have helped to rehabilitate other prisoners. The prerogative of mercy should be extended to them," Abbott said in 2015 in an unsuccessful effort to spare them the death penalty.

But Indonesian President Joko Widodo rejected the calls, saying "our legal sovereignty must be respected." Australia recalled its ambassador to Indonesia after the men were executed.

Widodo told CNN that year that the country was in the midst of a "drugs crisis," and insisted that he would not be swayed by clemency appeals.

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