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Mules are fools

Following the arrest of students Melissa Reid and Michaella McCollum last year, Katherine Tabor explains the dangers behind drug muling and the harsh realities of foreign prisons

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No one ever thinks another lecture on 'why drugs are bad news' is necessary. Even Melissa Reid, one half of the infamous Peru Two, admitted if you'd have pointed out the dangers of drug smuggling a year ago, she would have probably told you to "f*** off". But what a difference a year, and a sentence in a Peruvian jail, can make. The 21-year-old now wants to "tell anyone that will listen - it's not smart, not big and definitely not clever".

Reid, and accomplice Michaella McCollum Connolly, were just 2 of 717 British nationals arrested abroad for drug-related offences in the last year. Facts and figures like this are thrown at us every day, and sometimes fail to make an impact, but imagine JB Morrell library transformed into a prison (with the students inside!), and you get a real idea of how many people this is. However, the actual conditions of life in jail abroad stand in stark comparison to the luxuries of the library. The British girls, for example, who share a cramped cell with six other prisoners, are locked up for up to 12 hours a day, and have a hole in the ground as their toilet.

The conditions detainees find themselves in abroad are testament to the fact that the British government cannot get you any special treatment on the grounds of your nationality if you are arrested abroad. Nor can they interfere in another country's legal system. This combined with the fact that overseas laws for drug-crimes tend to be far harsher than in the UK, means that even possession can result in terrible consequences. Some of the penalties you could face around the world include:

  • minimum 4-year jail sentence in the UAE for possession (presence of drugs in the bloodstream also counts as possession)

  • death penalty for possession in excess of 20 grams of a Class A (deemed as a trafficker)

  • death penalty for trafficking in Indonesia

Although the latter examples seem unbelievable, the ongoing case of Lindsay Sandiford, currently on Death Row in Bali, only illustrates that drug-crime abroad can result in the harshest of penalties. There is further information on the penalties abroad at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/drug-crime-not-worth-the-risk .

Imagine spending your 21st birthday behind bars, surrounded by strangers whose language you don't speak. Imagine missing your grandmother's funeral. Imagine never seeing your family again. These are all experiences of British drugs mules serving sentences abroad. Let's not forget the impact these actions can have on family and friends. The negative effects loved ones suffer are often financial, emotional and sometimes even detrimental to their own physical health.

This emotional video, a part of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's campaign, tells the real-life stories of detainees and their families: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xe8S53P1pGY

These parents wish that their children had listened to the warnings. Is it worth it? Not according to those now serving time in jails with food and clean water shortages. The penalties are facts, not threats.

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