Chewing gum, insulting the king's dog: 'Minor' crimes that land you in foreign prisons

By Candace Sutton of news.com.au

Nine Sydney university graduates and former private schoolboys are in a Malaysian police cell after stripping down to these budgie smugglers at the Kuala Lumpur Grand Prix. Photo / Twitter
Nine Sydney university graduates and former private schoolboys are in a Malaysian police cell after stripping down to these budgie smugglers at the Kuala Lumpur Grand Prix. Photo / Twitter

Spraying graffiti on a wall, insulting the king's dog, photoshopping an image of the Lord Buddha, carrying plastic bags, or saying the word "bomb" at the airport are all crimes which can land you in a foreign prison.

Stripping down to Malaysian flag underwear in public has put nine Australian former private schoolboys in a Kuala Lumpur police cell, but they join a long list of people jailed overseas for "minor" offences.

The sentences for these crimes considered far more seriously abroad can mean months in the notoriously harsh prisons of Africa, the Middle East and South-East Asia.

In countries like Malaysia and Singapore, the punishment can include a public caning by the feared "rattan", or practice of caning.

Conservative standards of dress and behaviour apply in those and many other Asian countries.

But in Malaysia, crimes punishable by harsh sentences also include homosexual acts, which can incur a 20 year prison sentence and caning.

The Daily Telegraph's take on the 'Budgie Nine' story.
The Daily Telegraph's take on the 'Budgie Nine' story.

Australians who have fallen foul of overseas laws include Jodi Magi, 39, jailed last year in the United Arab Emirates for posting a photo on Facebook she had taken of a car parked across two disabled parking spaces outside her Abu Dhabi apartment.

Found guilty of "writing bad words on social media about a person", Magi was thrown into jail before being deported from the UAE where she had been teaching graphic design.

Another Australian woman, Alicia Gali, was jailed for eight months in the UAE for "having an illicit sexual relationship" after she reported being drugged and raped by co-workers.

Sex outside marriage is also illegal in Jordan, where it is punishable by a maximum three years in prison.

In the Pacific Islands, you can be arrested for sodomy in Tonga and adultery in Papua New Guinea.

In Myanmar, for the crime of "insulting Buddha", New Zealander Phil Blackwood spent 13 months in a windowless cell where the fluorescent lights were never turned off.

Blackwood was arrested within 24 hours of posting on Facebook a photoshopped image of Buddha wearing headphones to promote cheap drinks at the V Gastro Bar he managed.

Philip Blackwood spent 13 months in a infamous Myanmar prison for photoshopping an image of Buddha with earphones on. Photo / AP
Philip Blackwood spent 13 months in a infamous Myanmar prison for photoshopping an image of Buddha with earphones on. Photo / AP

Thrown into the notorious Insein Prison in the Myanmar capital Yangon, he lived with murderers and drug dealers and lost 20kg.

Strict laws are enforced in Singapore for chewing gum, littering, vandalism and "outrage of modesty", such as inappropriate touching, language and behaviour between couples in public.

Singaporean punishment by caning made world headlines when American teenager Michael Fay was sentenced to six strokes for spray painting cars and stealing road signs.

Reduced to four strokes on appeal, Fay was caned on May 5, 1994 in Singapore's Queenstown Remand Prison.

Men who have been caned say the pain of the blows, applied with the full force of the jailer's arm, was "excruciating" and "beyond description".

Insulting Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe or his office can land you in prison. Photo / AP
Insulting Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe or his office can land you in prison. Photo / AP

Last year, Germans Andreas Von Knorre and Elton Hinz were sentenced to nine months' prison and three strokes of the cane for breaking into a train depot and spray painting a train cabin.

Thailand imprisons people for insulting its king, while Kuwait has strict laws with jail sentences for using social media to criticise local politics and also its Emir, Sheikh Sabah IV Ahmad al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

Kuwait also imprisons people for up to 10 years for engaging in homosexual acts.

In Turkey, insulting the flag, the nation or its founder, Kemal Ataturk, is a criminal offence, as is defacing local currency or not carrying photographic ID.

Zimbabwe jails people for making derogatory or insulting comments about President Robert Mugabe.

MALAYSIA

In June this year, a 19-year-old Malaysian man was sentenced to a year in prison for insulting a royal family on Facebook.

Muhammad Amirul Azwan Mohd Shakri, a labourer, pleaded guilty to 14 charges under the country's multimedia laws, which forbid people from posting content online that others might find abusive or distressing.

"Bomb" jokes at Kuala Lumpur airport can also land you in jail.

Malaysia police have arrested 15 people since last year for saying the word "bomb" in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Malaysia's 'Banksy', artist Fahmi Riza posted this on Twitter after he was charged over depicting Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak as a clown. Photo / Supplied
Malaysia's 'Banksy', artist Fahmi Riza posted this on Twitter after he was charged over depicting Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak as a clown. Photo / Supplied

"Many of them were caught saying the word 'bomb' jokingly at the baggage check-in counter and in the airport vicinity," District police chief Assistant Commissioner Abdul Aziz Ali said.

"People must know that this not something you can joke around as it can bring about serious consequences."

Malaysian graphic artist Fahmi Reza was arrested earlier this year for drawing a clown caricature of the Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, which went viral.

Judicial caning, ordered as part of a criminal sentence is imposed in Malaysia always in addition to a prison sentence for adult offenders.

In 2009, hospital worker Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, was sentenced by a sharia court to six strokes of the cane and a fine for drinking beer in a hotel bar.

One day before the sentence was due to be carried out, the Sultan of Pahang commuted the sentence to three weeks of community service.

In 2010, three Muslim women were caned by order of a sharia court for adultery, the first time women were caned in Malaysia.

THAILAND

The Thai king Bhumibol, now aged 88, enforces the rules of "lèse-majesté" - which means "injured majesty" - which can punish the slightest insult against his monarchy.

Last year, factory worker Thanakorn Siripaiboon was charged by a military court for making a "sarcastic" comment about King Bhumibol's favourite dog, Copper.

Bhumibol had adopted Copper, a mongrel from the litter of a street stray, and written a book in 2002 about his "humble and respectful" hound.

Thanakorn was threatened with up to 37 years in prison for a series of online postings that also allegedly defamed the king.

A military court also sentenced a 49-year-old single mother to 19 years imprisonment after she posted an image of a military tank with a message saying that a "counter-coup" was on its way to overthrow the government.

The jail term for the woman using the Facebook identity 'Chanisa Boonyajinda' was halved after she pleaded guilty.

In 2011, a Thai court sentenced a man to 20 years in prison for sending text messages deemed insulting to the monarchy.

Ampon Tangnoppakulis, 61, who became known in Thailand as "Uncle SMS" during the case, was found guilty after sending four messages to the private secretary of then-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

SINGAPORE

Sentenced to caning in Singapore, teenager Michael Fay was initially given four months prison and six strokes from the rattan for spray painting cars. Photo / AP
Sentenced to caning in Singapore, teenager Michael Fay was initially given four months prison and six strokes from the rattan for spray painting cars. Photo / AP

Singapore has a history of strictly enforcing its law against vandalism, but it is also illegal to

smoke in public places or indoor restaurants, spit or chew gum or tobacco, to litter or jaywalk.

Caning can be imposed for rioting and for visa offences.

You can be imprisoned for bringing in e-cigarettes, e-pipes, e-cigars, and refills, even for personal consumption.

Airline passengers who become intoxicated, behave badly or use offensive language during a flight may be arrested on arrival in Singapore. Similar behaviour in transit may also lead to arrest.

Driving under the influence of alcohol is a serious offence in Singapore, punishable by up to 10 years' prison.

Myriad laws in African countries restrict the behaviour of tourists but one of the most well-intended has resulted in people being imprisoned for merely carrying a plastic bag.

Rwanda outlawed plastic bags for environment reasons, but the legislation created a black market and anyone caught carrying a bag faced months in the country's infamous prisons.

Every Australian traveller should know the laws against drug trafficking in Indonesia following the death penalty sentences given to Bali 9 ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran last year.

But Townsville man, Nicholas James Langan, managed to get locked up for a year just for sharing a marijuana joint on a Bali beach.

Denpasar District Court in Bali found him guilty of abusing a type one narcotic and jailed him for 12 months.

- news.com.au

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