Jakarta – A beautician and a packet of mysterious powder have threatened to damage erstwhile warming relations between Indonesia and its southern neighbour,Australia. The Indonesian embassy in Canberra was closed on June 1 after a suspicious packet containing powder delivered to the embassy sparked fears of an anthrax attack.
The authorities in both countries believe that the incident could be related to the jailing of Australian beautician Schapelle Corby after she was found guilty of drug smuggling in Bali.
Initial investigations suggested that the powder, although containing bacteria, was harmless.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard acknowledged that the incident had damaged his country’s standing among Indonesians. "This was a reckless, evil act," he told Parliament on June 2.
He warned of possible retaliation against Australia as public emotions rose in both countries over the powder scare and Corby’s 20-year jail term.
Many Australians feel that the sentence is too severe. Many also believe her story that someone else had planted the drugs in her bag. Her supporters have called on Australians to boycott Bali and have even expressed regret for donating to Indonesian tsunami victims.
In Jakarta, Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said the world should not use double standard in upholding the law. "When Indonesia failed to uphold the law, they said that we have weak law enforcement. But when Indonesia enforces the law, they said it was wrong."
In an editorial commenting on the Corby controversy, Malaysia’s New Straits Times said her case “illustrates a disturbing tendency for populist sentiment to ride roughshod over established judicial processes or accepted principles in international relations”.
“Though it is understandable for Australians to feel strongly about the predicament of one of their own stuck in a life-and-death situation in a foreign country, the public outrage has not only been astounding in its intensity but also shocking in the glimpses it has revealed of the depths of racism and xenophobia.”
The newspaper suggested that Australia could take a leaf from Malaysia's book. The Malaysian Foreign Minister had said that it would not interfere with the Australian judicial process in the case of a Malaysian woman awaiting trial on charges of smuggling opium into Australia.
* VP calls on nations to respect RI’s law (Antara, June 2)
* Threat to Indonesia embassy clouds Australian ties to Jakarta (The Jakarta Post, June 2)
* The Corby controversy (New Straits Times, May 30)