Grandmother Lindsay Sandiford's cocaine sentence: Executing drug mules isn't just inhumane. It’s also pointless

Drug mules are sentenced as if they were drug barons - it's not right, and it won't stop the drugs trude

Share
Related Topics

Today a judge in Denpassar handed down the death penalty to British Citizen Lindsay Sandison.

She was arrested in May with just under five kilos of cocaine. This news came as a shock. The prosecutor sought 15 years: this is a high sentence by international standards but not entirely unexpected. Although the death penalty was a technical possibility, it is rare for the judge to impose a penalty higher than that requested by the prosecutor. Also, it is absolutely clear to me that she was acting as a drugs mule: this is a minor role that she undertook after threats had been made to her son. The death penalty is grossly disproportionate.

Lindsay will sadly join approximately 100 people on death row in Indonesia. Around half of them are sentenced for drug offences. Many of them are foreigners; many of them are sentenced to death but many for dealing. This situation is not unique to Indonesia. According to Harm Reduction International, hundreds of people are executed worldwide for drug offences every year. In Iran alone, over 10,000 men and women have been executed for drugs offences since 1979 (figures from Harm Reduction International). The true figure of the number of people executed in the name of fighting the drug war is unknown: many nations do not make such information public (notably China and Vietnam). Whilst it is often assumed that the death penalty is reserved for the most serious, violent offenders the sad reality is that a significant portion of those who have received the death penalty worldwide have been drug offenders: some of them may have been ‘king pins’ but the overwhelming majority will have been users, dealers and mules.

Opposition to the death penalty is often made on humanitarian grounds. The United Nations strongly opposes the death penalty. In 2010, they stated:

‘UNODC advocates the abolition of the death penalty and calls upon Member States to follow international standards concerning prohibition of the death penalty for offences of a drug-related or purely economic nature.’

The United Nations assert that the death penalty contravenes the right to life. The UK government also strongly oppose the death penalty.

‘All well and good’, I hear you say. ‘But something must be done to stem the flow of drugs and the damage they cause to communities and families’. My response to this is that the issue of availability of drugs and is a really complex one. In fact, many researchers agree that harsh penalties ensure high prices and large profit margins. We could argue about this for days. What is clear thought is that the death penalty has little effect on the availability of drugs or the harms done to communities.

There is no evidence to suggest that harsh drug laws have any impact on the availability of drugs, in Indonesia or elsewhere. The fact that half of the death row population in Indonesia are drug offenders clearly demonstrates that.  

The death penalty is also not an especially efficient deterrent. Mules are often misinformed about where they were going, or last minute changes to the destination were made. If a mule wanted to back out then they would be asked to pay for their airplane ticket. Given that many of them were involved due to financial crises and debts, none of them could afford to. This is just one example of the way that recruiters seek to control mules – even those who participate willingly. Control, and subtle forms of coercion were endemic to the way the business is run.

Most of those arrested at international borders will probably be couriers. They will all have different reasons for getting involved, but most will be motivated by poverty and financial crises. Some will be coerced or threatened. Executing them has little long-term impact. The people who sent them – the people who buy and sell the drugs (call them king pins if you must) – won’t be affected. They will lose a quantity of drugs, some money and maybe even some sleep. But the trade will continue.

Dr Jennifer Fleetwood is a Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Kent. She is currently writing a book on women in the international cocaine trade.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Syrian refugee 'Nora' with her two month-old daughter. She was one of the first Syrians to come to the UK when the Government agreed to resettle 100 people from the country  

Open letter to David Cameron on Syrian refugees: 'Several hundred people' isn't good enough

Independent Voices
Amjad Bashir said Ukip had become a 'party of ruthless self-interest'  

Could Ukip turncoat Amjad Bashir be the Churchill of his day?

Matthew Norman
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine