Aussies in overseas jail hell this Christmas

 

It has been a bumper year for Australians being released from foreign jails.

In February, Melbourne horse trainer Yvette Nikolic was cleared of drugs charges in Fiji.

In May, Queensland mother of two Yoshe Ann Taylor was freed from prison in Cambodia, after serving six years for a wrongful conviction.

In October, Perth travel bloggers Jolie King and Mark Firkin were freed from jail in Iran as part of a prisoner swap, and later that month Jock Palfreeman, who had been serving a 20 year sentence in Bulgaria for murder, was unexpectedly released on parole. (He has been left in a kind of legal limbo, however, and is at the time of writing unable to return to Australia.)

Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert, Cassandra Sainsbury, Julian Assange and Sara Connor are just some of the Australians experiencing Christmas in a foreign prison.
Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert, Cassandra Sainsbury, Julian Assange and Sara Connor are just some of the Australians experiencing Christmas in a foreign prison.

And in just the past few weeks, Sydney grandmother Maria Exposto escaped a death sentence in Malaysia for her unwitting role in a drug importation racket, and Adelaide tradie Nicholas Carr walked free from Bali's Kerobokan prison after serving four months for an alcohol-fuelled late-night rampage through the streets of Kuta.

But plenty more Australians remain incarcerated in foreign prisons at the end of 2019.

Some protest their innocence; others are simply serving their time.

These are the Aussies cut off from friends and family spending Christmas alone in overseas hellholes.

 

UNITED KINGDOM

Julian Assange

 

 

In April, the Wikileaks founder went from self-imposed imprisonment in the Ecuadorean embassy in London (where he had sought asylum for seven years), to actual incarceration in Belmarsh Prison. The 48 year old, who is reportedly in poor mental and physical health, is serving a 50-week sentence for breaching bail conditions and is fighting extradition to the US on spying and computer hacking charges which carry a potential jail term of 175 years. An unlikely coalition of notables has formed to support him, including Pamela Anderson, Bob Carr, Mary Kostakides and George Christensen. Assange has also mounted a case that a Spanish security firm illegally spied on him during his stay in the embassy, alleging that such a move was "probably on orders from US intelligence".

 

IRAN

Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert

 

Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert. Picture: The Modern Middle East, YouTube.
Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert. Picture: The Modern Middle East, YouTube.

Melbourne-based academic Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert was arrested in Iran in 2018 and charged with spying offences, but her incacertaion in Tehran's notorious Evin prison only came to wider public attention this year when Perth-based travel bloggers Jolie King and Mark Firkin were also arrested. King and Firkin were released several months later after a prisoner swap brokered by Foreign Minister Marise Payne, but Dr Moore-Gilbert remains locked up on charges that Payne said the Australian government did not accept. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also raised her case with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the UN General Assembly meeting in September - Moore-Gilbert is a dual national - but as yet, diplomatic efforts to free her have come to naught. In letters recently smuggled out of Evin, she pleaded with Prime Minister Scott Morrison "to do whatever it takes to get me out," and revealed she planned to commence a hunger strike on Christmas Eve.

 

COLOMBIA

Cassie Sainsbury

 

Australian drug smuggler Cassie Sainsbury has found love in jail, becoming engaged to a fellow prisoner Joslianinyer Pico. Picture: Facebook
Australian drug smuggler Cassie Sainsbury has found love in jail, becoming engaged to a fellow prisoner Joslianinyer Pico. Picture: Facebook

"Cocaine Cassie" may not have an entirely desolate Christmas, if reports of her engagement to fellow prisoner Joslianinyer Pico are accurate. The former Adelaide-based personal trainer was arrested in April 2017 after attempting to smuggle 5.8kg of cocaine hidden inside 18 pairs of headphones, and is serving a six-year sentence after entering a plea deal. Earlier this month, Ms Sainsbury shared details of her prison romance with New Idea, revealing Ms Pico proposed marriage via a poster stuck up on a prison wall. Reports suggest Sainsbury could be released as early as next year. Ms Pico is also due for release in January 2020.

 

UNITED STATES

Lisa Cunningham

 

Lisa Cunningham in court in Phoenix, Arizona. Picture: Sunday Night/Channel 7
Lisa Cunningham in court in Phoenix, Arizona. Picture: Sunday Night/Channel 7

The 44-year-old former Adelaide resident is due to face trial in 2020 along with her police detective husband Germayne for the murder of his seven-year-old daughter (her stepdaughter) Sanaa. The little girl suffered acute schizophrenia and prosecutors allege she died from a sepsis infection after injuries to her head and foot in February 2017. She had also been severely restrained in the months before her death but the defence contended that this was for her own safety, and that of her siblings. Cunningham, who is in prison in Phoenix, Arizona, could face the death penalty if found guilty.

 

FIJI

John Nikolic

 

John Nikolic at the High court in Suva, where he was sentenced to 23 years in prison. His wife Yvette was found not guilty and is now back in Australia. Picture: Gary Ramage
John Nikolic at the High court in Suva, where he was sentenced to 23 years in prison. His wife Yvette was found not guilty and is now back in Australia. Picture: Gary Ramage

 

Former Melbourne horse trainer John Nikolic and his wife Yvette were arrested in Fiji on June 22, 2018 on their boat Shenanigans, charged with importing 12.9kg of cocaine and possessing methamphetamine and cocaine tablets worth an estimated $20-30 million. Yvette walked free from Suva High Court on February 18 after being found not guilty of drug possession and importation charges, but John was sentenced to 23 years, with a non-parole period of 18 years.

 

Joseph Abourizk

 

Joseph Abourizk. Picture: Facebook
Joseph Abourizk. Picture: Facebook

 

Former Sydney tow truck driver Joseph Abourizk was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2016, after he and a Fijian associate were found with nearly 50 kilograms of cocaine at a marina in Lautoka while he was in the Pacific Island nation on holiday. But in June this year, the 33-year-old had his jail term increased from 14 to 25 years on appeal, understood to be the harshest sentence for a drugs offence ever handed down in Fiji.

 

CHINA

Yang Henjun

 

Chinese-Australian author Yang Hengjun.
Chinese-Australian author Yang Hengjun.

Writer Yang Henjun was arrested in Guangzhou in January and charged with spying, but China critics say he was detained for his trenchant criticisms of Xi Jinping's government. The case of the 54 year old Australian citizen has been a point of contention in a period of escalating tensions between Canberra and Beijing.

 

THAILAND

Steven Hovi and Jamie Hansom

 

Jamie Hansom (left) and Steven Hovi pictured after their arrest. Picture: PattayaEasternNews
Jamie Hansom (left) and Steven Hovi pictured after their arrest. Picture: PattayaEasternNews

 

Hansom, 46, and Hovi, 58, were two of five people arrested in a police raid on a house in Pattaya in late November. Police allegedly seized more than a kilogram of ice as well as other assets, which they claimed were linked to the Hells Angels and Comanchero bikie gangs. The men could face the death penalty if found guilty. A third Australian man, Tihomer Stojic, 47, was arrested shortly after the Pattaya raid and charged with offences linked to an international drug trafficking ring.

 

THE PHILIPPINES

Peter Scully

 

Peter Gerard Scully pictured arriving for court, June 2018. Picture: Nitz Arancon/Gold Star Daily
Peter Gerard Scully pictured arriving for court, June 2018. Picture: Nitz Arancon/Gold Star Daily

 

Considered one of the world's most depraved child traffickers and rapists, Peter Scully is serving a life sentence for the most sickening child sexual abuse and pornography offences imaginable, including the filmed sexual abuse of an 18-month old girl. The former Melbourne businessman, who fled Australia in 2011, where he was facing fraud charges, was arrested at his home in Mindanao in 2015 and charged in 2018.

 

INDONESIA

William Cabantog and David Van Iersel

 

David Van Iersel and William Cabantog waiting inside Denpasar District Courtroom to face trial. Picture: Lukman S.Bintoro
David Van Iersel and William Cabantog waiting inside Denpasar District Courtroom to face trial. Picture: Lukman S.Bintoro

 

Melbourne nightclub identities David Van Iersel, 38, and William Cabantog, 35, face a nervous wait this Christmas, with their court case set to resume on January 6. The duo were arrested in July at the Lost City nightclub in Bali's Canggu area, where they were allegedly found in possession of 1.12 grams of cocaine. Both later tested positive to the narcotic. The men could face a sentence of 12 years in prison, but earlier this month the prosecutor in the case called for light sentences for both of them: 14 months for Van Iersel, and 18 months for Cabantog.

 

Members of the 'Bali Nine'

 

Scott Rush, pictured in Kerobokan in December 2014.
Scott Rush, pictured in Kerobokan in December 2014.

Five members of the Bali Nine remain in prison, following the 2018 release of Renee Lawrence, the 2015 executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, and the death (from cancer) of Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen in 2018.

Earlier this month, 34-year-old Scott Rush lodged another appeal to his life sentence - a risky strategy, given an earlier attempt resulted in his life sentence being upgraded to a death sentence (it was later changed back). Rush has asked for his life sentence to be commuted to 20 years, which - if accepted by the Indonesian authorities - could see him released in 2026. He is serving his sentence in Bangli prison, having been transferred from Kerobokan in 2014 at his own request to escape the temptations of drugs.

Matthew Norman inside Kerobokan jail this year. Picture. Lukman S. Bintoro
Matthew Norman inside Kerobokan jail this year. Picture. Lukman S. Bintoro

Fellow Bali Nine members Matthew Norman and Si Yi Chen remain in Kerobokan, where they are known as model prisoners. Both were most recently seen during Independence Day celebrations within the jail, where Norman (who at 32 is the youngest member of the Bali Nine) was spotted in a T-shirt that featured a Christian cross and the word "redemption". He runs rehabilitation programs in the jail, including screen printing T-shirts, computer and English classes, while Chen runs a silversmith course for fellow prisoners.

 

Martin Stephens pictured in 2013.
Martin Stephens pictured in 2013.

 

Of the remaining two members of the Bali Nine, Martin Stephens is serving his life sentence in Malang prison, East Java, having married Javanese woman Christine Puspayanti in a traditional ceremony inside Kerobokan jail in 2011, and Michael Czugaj is in Madiun prison, also in East Java. Czugaj was moved in 2016 after guards found traces of the drug ice in his cell. Authorities at the time said he was "strongly addicted" and needed to be moved away from his drug network.

 

Sara Connor

 

Sara Connor pictured inside the kitchen of Denpasar Women’s Prison in Bali in 2016. Picture: Lukman S.Bintoro
Sara Connor pictured inside the kitchen of Denpasar Women’s Prison in Bali in 2016. Picture: Lukman S.Bintoro

This will be former Byron Bay resident Sara Connor's fourth Christmas inside Kerobokan prison, although 2020 may end up being her last full year inside, after five months were sliced off her sentence in August this year. Connor was sentenced to four years initially, later upgraded to five years, for her part in the August 2016 death of a Bali police officer. Her then boyfriend David Taylor was also sentenced over the violent death. Connor is a senior leader in the women's block at Kerobokan prison but is known to keep to herself. Connor and Taylor are no longer a couple.

 

Robert Ellis

 

 

Like Sara Connor, convicted paedophile Robert Ellis also had five months wiped off his sentence in August this year, but at the age of 73, he has said that he expects to die in jail. He was handed a 15-year sentence in 2016 for the grooming and sexual abuse of 11 girls aged between seven and 17 in 2014 and 2015. At trial Ellis maintained he had done nothing wrong and that he had paid the child victims generously. He denied he was a paedophile.

 

Michael Sacatides

 

Michael Sacatides was 43 at the time of his arrest.
Michael Sacatides was 43 at the time of his arrest.

This will be the 10th Christmas behind bars for the former Sydney kickboxing instructor, who was arrested at Bali airport in October 2010 after flying in from Bangkok with 1.7kg of ice hidden in his suitcase. The now 51-year-old was handed an 18-year sentence in a shock decision in 2011 - two years more than that requested by the prosecution. Initially held in Kerobokan prison, Sacatides is now in the narcotics jail in Bangli with Scott Rush. Prison officials say that he regularly runs exercise classes with other prisoners and has married a local woman.

 

Brendon Johnsson

 

Brendon Johnsson after his trial at a court in Denpasar.
Brendon Johnsson after his trial at a court in Denpasar.

The former Sunshine Coast resident will be spending his second Christmas inside Kerobokan prison, after his August 2018 arrest and sentencing earlier this year. The 44 year old could have faced the death penalty but instead was sentenced to five years and four months for providing and possessing cocaine, after his legal defence argued he had been battling drug addiction since his teenage years. Johnsson and his girlfriend were caught with 11.6 grams of cocaine in 13 plastic packets during a police raid at their Kuta home.

 

- Additional reporting by Ondy Harvard, Sarah Blake, Stephen Drill, Mandy Squires and Cindy Wockner.

 

Si Yi Chen pictured during this year’s Indonesia's Independent Day celebrations. Picture. Lukman S. Bintoro
Si Yi Chen pictured during this year’s Indonesia's Independent Day celebrations. Picture. Lukman S. Bintoro
Michael Czugaj pictured in Kerobokan. Picture: Supplied
Michael Czugaj pictured in Kerobokan. Picture: Supplied

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