Locked Up in a Foreign Country
Reprieve Australia provides legal and humanitarian assistance to people facing the death penalty
World Coalition against the Death Penalty
“THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING. IT ONLY HAPPENS TO OTHER PEOPLE.”
An anonymous personal account of the battle to save the life of a beloved family member arrested in serious circumstances in a foreign jurisdiction. Details of the case are deliberately vague to avoid identification of the person at risk.
The shocking realization that one of your own is lost overseas in a country that you have no knowledge of, creates fear and nausea in the pit of the stomach that is unparalleled.
It starts with the first dreadful news from your embassy that the person you love has been detained after being charged with something that is simply not in their character.
After all, we know them. We know their daily routines, their likes and dislikes. They are part of a close-knit family with contact between some family members being daily or, at the very least, weekly. How could this possibly happen? How could we not know of the danger they were in, when the fabric of the family is so strong?
So when the embassy tells you not to speak with the media or risk jeopardizing your loved one’s situation, you start to feel very real panic creep in. You begin to experience the enormity of your loved one’s plight. You think, this is so out of my comfort zone that it can’t possibly be real – but it is – then starts the rollercoaster ride from hell.
You begin thinking: What should I have done differently to help keep my loved one safe? What should I be doing right now to maximize the chances of them being freed and coming home as soon as possible? So many thoughts! Have I done the right thing? Could I be doing more? Are the lawyers the right ones for the task? Do we have enough money? Is my loved one okay? Are they being treated all right? Do they have enough food, clothing and blankets? Where are they being detained?
You hear so many bad stories about the place where your family member is being held. You worry and pray some more. You also worry for other members of the family who are devastated by the news. Everyone is in shock. Once more you hear the same words echoing from family members and friends. “It’s so not like them.” “It’s out of their character.” “What happened?”
You start to hide from others as you are just so exhausted. You haven’t slept for what seems like days and feel you cannot answer any more questions. You want to crawl into your father’s arms and hide even for a short time.
Please watch over our special person, Dad, keep X safe from any harm that comes that way, you say in your head. But then you remember Dad is no longer with us. You have to keep it together and be strong for the rest of the family. If your loved one can remain strong in the situation they are in, then so can you.
You finally get to choose a lawyer, but it takes more weeks before the lawyer gains permission to see your loved one. All the frustrations and unanswered questions you have in your head cannot necessarily be asked. You have no control or say. The embassy and government cannot interfere with the internal workings of the government where your loved one is being held.
Politics and diplomacy are other issues that teeter dangerously in the mix. You are told your loved one is just one small fish in the pond, but they are doing their best to make sure the person is being looked after and has food and clothing.
Then starts the process of evidence gathering: What evidence do they claim to have? There is none, but they construct a bizarre scenario with flimsy detail implicating your loved one. You aren’t allowed to question their theory. Your lawyer can only ask specific questions about the nature of the evidence – not cross-examine or make arguments refuting the material. Where is the fairness? Where are the facts? Why was some of the evidence that proved your loved one’s innocence, destroyed? While this is going on you have no phone contact. No visits are allowed by family or friends. The embassy visits once a month for the maximum 30 minutes allowed.
Lawyer visits cost anywhere upwards of US$850 per visit, so you try and keep them at a minimum. Your own lawyer, from your own country, is not allowed to visit and what information your family member gets from the lawyers, in the country concerned, is minimal.
All communication with your loved one is via sluggish snail mail and any mail received, when it hasn’t been confiscated, can be tampered with and edited or has pages missing.
You feel like you are banging your head against a brick wall. You know the conditions they are living in are inhumane, but there is nothing you can do but pray this ride will soon be over.
The site stopMULEvictims.org didn’t exist when my family began its horrible journey. If we had had a site like MULE, and were directed there when this nightmare began, we might have been able to gather important information needed to prove my loved one’s innocence much more quickly. We might even have had my family member back in our arms today – we don’t. That is why I am working as a part of stopMULEvictims to help other families who might be about to go through what we have been going through for many months now.
Missed birthdays and Christmases, when everyone used to get together, are the worst. It is really hard on the family. We will never be able to get back those lost occasions – those special moments, but we can pray for our future ones together when my loved one is finally HOMEFREE where that special person belongs!
Contact: Asia Pacific Lawyers Network public affairs manager Mandy Wyer, +61 418 270 656.
The Asia Pacific Lawyers Network is a member of MULE and works pro bono to help prevent human trafficking and use of the death penalty in the Asia Pacific.