British grandmother gets death for drugs in Indonesia

A 56-year-old British grandmother was sentenced to death Tuesday for smuggling cocaine into the Indonesian island of Bali, in a shock verdict after prosecutors recommended 15 years imprisonment.

Lindsay Sandiford sobbed as the court in Bali's capital Denpasar handed down the sentence, over a drugs haul worth $2.4 million found in her suitcase as she arrived on a flight from Bangkok last May.

"We found Lindsay Sandiford convincingly and legally guilty for importing narcotics... and sentenced the defendant to death," judge Amser Simanjuntak told Denpasar district court.

Indonesian police said she was at the centre of a drugs importing ring involving three other Britons and an Indian who have also been arrested.

Sandiford argued that she was forced into transporting the 4.79 kilos (10.6 pounds) of cocaine in order to protect her children whose safety was at stake, and the prosecution had recommended a lenient sentence.

But the court ruled that she had not admitted her crime and had damaged Indonesia's hardline stance on drugs as well as Bali's reputation as a tourism destination.

As she was led back to jail, hiding her face behind a sarong, her stunned lawyers said she would likely launch an appeal.

"We object to the sentence. We never expected that our client would get the death penalty," said counsel Esra Karokaro. "We will discuss it first with her, most likely we will appeal."

Sandiford, in spectacles and with her hair tied back, hung her head low, turned pale and cried as the verdict was read out, while her sister Hillary Parson who attended the trial also sobbed.

The court rejected the argument that Sandiford had acted to protect her children, and said there were "no mitigating circumstances" to allow for leniency.

"Her action was against the government's effort to combat drug use in the country and she insisted that she never committed the crime," said another judge, Amser Simanjuntak.

"What the defendant has done could tarnish Bali's image as a tourism destination," he added.

British human rights charity Reprieve said last month that Sandiford "was exploited by drug traffickers, who targeted her because of her vulnerability and her fear for the safety of her children".

Britain's junior foreign minister Hugo Swire said Tuesday: "We strongly object to the death penalty and continue to provide consular assistance to Lindsay and her family during this difficult time."

He told parliament it was his understanding that Sandiford has at least two further avenues of appeal and an opportunity to apply for presidential clemency if those failed.

Two other Britons arrested in connection with the case received light sentences last month.

Rachel Dougall was sentenced to 12 months for failing to report Sandiford's crime and Paul Beales received four years for possession of 3.6 grams of hashish but was cleared of drug trafficking.

A fourth Briton, Julian Ponder, is expected to hear his sentence at the end of this month after prosecutors recommended a seven-year jail term.

Indonesia enforces stiff penalties for drug trafficking, but death penalty sentences are commonly commuted to long jail sentences.

Gandjar Laksamana, a criminal law expert from the University of Indonesia, said that although the severe penalty shocked the defence, the prosecution's light recommendation was more surprising.

"The law regulates that the maximum penalty for such crime is death. So the question should be why the prosecutor did not ask for the maximum penalty," he told AFP.

Two members of an Australian drug smuggling gang known as the "Bali Nine" who were arrested in 2005 are currently on death row, while the seven others face lengthy jail terms. A French man has also been on death row since May 2007.

Executions in Indonesia are carried out by firing squad, usually at night in isolated and undisclosed locations. The last one was in June 2008, when two Nigerian drug traffickers were shot.

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