Grim Indonesian jail adds to despair

By Greg Ansley

Life has become even grimmer for the nine Australians facing a possible death sentence for their alleged roles in a bid to smuggle 8.3kg of heroin out of Bali.

In Jakarta, police shot dead Man Singh Ghale, who they claim was one of the key figures behind the nine, confirming their belief that the thwarted plan to fly the heroin out of Bali strapped to the bodies of four "mules" was only part of a much larger operation.

Senior Indonesian investigators used the death of alleged Nepalese kingpin Ghale to reinforce their determination to execute the Australians if they are found guilty.

Meanwhile, in the Denpasar District Court, alleged marijuana smuggler Schappelle Corby's emotional final plea of innocence was delivered to a bench of apparently unmoved judges, one of whom did not understand her address while another read a book.

Corby, 27, believed by most Australians to be innocent, has a much stronger defence than the nine, yet in Indonesia she is widely considered to be guilty.

If she is convicted, prosecutors have said they will seek life in jail rather than execution. No such option appears open to the numbed group of young Australians following the arrest at Denpasar airport of of three men and a woman who had slabs of heroin taped to their bodies.

Every day, relatives of the accused elbow their way through a media scrum into Denpasar's Kerobokan Prison, infamous for its appalling conditions and for its prisoners - whose ranks include terrorists, drug dealers and murderers.

Muhammed Rifan, the lawyer for 18-year-old alleged smuggler Michael Norman, said the stench from the jail's toilets was overwhelming, the water undrinkable and the food inedible. Alleged colleague Renae Lawrence, 27, the only woman in the group, is on a suicide watch after trying to slash her wrists.

But there will be no early relief. Police are determined to uncover the major players and have put the nine under increasing pressure. They claim some members of the group knew each other previously, had travelled to Bali, had multiple false passports and that alleged ringleader and enforcer Myuran Sukumaran, 24, was preparing another shipment for Australia when he was arrested.

The death of Ghale has added to this belief. Ghale, a known trafficker in Indonesia and wanted by United States, Thai and Nepalese drug enforcement agencies, was gunned down when a house was raided in Jakarta.

Police found weapons, heroin and cocaine. Ghale was believed to have organised a large shipment of heroin five years ago. Three men involved in the attempt are among the 35 drug traffickers on Indonesia's death row.

Indonesian police say Ghale was linked to the Bali nine.

Investigators have time on their side. Under Indonesian law they have 60 days before they need to present evidence to prosecutors, who then have another 60 days to complete indictments for the court.

The nine's day in court may still be months away.

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