WEDNESDAY, November 27
After five years in a Malaysian jail – 18 months of that on death row – a Sydney grandmother has been released and is heading home.
Malaysia’s highest court yesterday acquitted Maria Exposto who had been sentenced to hang for drug trafficking, after her lawyers argued she was the “perfect text book dummy” and victim of an online romance scam.
Exposto, 55, was convicted last year of trafficking more than one kilogram of crystal methamphetamine, also known as ice, discovered in a black backpack by customs officials at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in December, 2014.
At the time of her arrest and being told by customs officials she had ice in her backpack, Exposto indicated her ignorance of the alleged stash when she said it couldn’t be ice as it would have melted.
In the Federal Appeal Court of Malaysia on Tuesday there were sighs of relief from friends and family as the chief judge of Malaysia, Tengku Maimum Binti Tuan Mat, delivered the unanimous findings by a full bench of five judges.
In exonerating Exposto, the judge said it was proven she had no knowledge of the drugs and was an innocent carrier, adding: “This is not enough to hang someone.”
Exposto was immediately taken to the immigration office to arrange exit papers ahead of her expected flight out to Sydney.
“I’m thrilled. I’m very happy because I can go home to my family,” she told reporters after being officially released from custody later on Tuesday.
“I’m going out to eat a steak and drink some wine because those five years I did not have any.”
Her son Hugo said his family was delighted with the decision and that they “had just tried to take it one day at a time and do everything we can” throughout the five year ordeal.
Her defence lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah argued a lower court had erred in their findings and in sentencing her to hang.
He said Exposto was the “perfect text book dummy” and her case was the first of its type in Malaysia which held broader legal ramifications given the appalling “state of affairs of internet scams”.
“Her behaviour was totally consistent with innocence,” Shafee told the judges.
The defence had argued Exposto was the victim of an internet romance scam initiated by a man who identified himself as “Captain Daniel Smith,” a US soldier stationed in Afghanistan, a widower whose wife had died in a car accident, and the father of a teenage son.
Prostitution is no longer illegal in the Northern erritory.
Sex work was descriminalised by a vote in the Northern Territory last night with a 16-5 vote to repeal NT’s old sex work laws and pass a new act.
Territory politicians voted to adopt the new legislation which means brothels, soliciting and home-based sex work are no longer illegal, although the Government refused to remove penalties for non-compliant advertising.
NT Attorney-General Natasha Fyles said the new act was about keeping workers safe.
“When you take the word ‘sex’ out of it, we are looking at it from a worker safety perspective and we are looking it from regulating it so our community has a say in it,” she said.
“We have taken the approach that this is something that happens in our communities and we want to regulate that so that communities can have a say on what activities take place and we look at this through a business framework.”
Ms Fyles also said the NT Government would not allow brothels to operate next door to childcare centres or schools but was not able to say exactly how far away the businesses could be.
Speaking on the bill, the MP for Braitling Dale Wakefield broke down in tears.
“I do know many fabulous and fierce women who have been in the sex work industry in the past, in the present and possibly in the future and they deserve, like anyone, any worker anywhere to access services when and where they need it, to report a crime, to have a violence-free workplace and to be able to control the manner in which they do their job,” she said.
The Scarlet Alliance, the peak body representing Australian sex workers, said the vote meant that the NT had become just the third jurisdiction in the world to decriminalise sex work.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has rebuffed former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson’s plea for Australia to help Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, in jail in the UK.
Assange is currently behind bars as he fights a US extradition bid on charges filed under the espionage act.
He faces a sentence of up to 175 years in an American prison.
But in a letter to Ms Anderson, published by News Corp, the Prime Minister said the Australian Government could not intervene in the legal proceedings.
“The Australian Government continues to monitor Mr Assange’s case closely, as it would for any other Australian citizen in detention overseas,” the letter says.
“Beyond providing consular assistance, it is important to note that Australia has no standing and is unable to intervene in Mr Assange’s legal proceedings.”
Pamela Anderson has been a vocal supporter of the 48-year-old, visiting him in prison in May and at the Ecuadorian embassy in London on several occasions.
She was reportedly due to give a speech at Parliament House this week, but cancelled due to a scheduling conflict.
But in a post on her website to the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Marise Payne, titled: “From Pamela to Australia” she declares Julian Assange is facing “psychological torture”.
“I make a heartfelt personal plea to every parliamentarian that is charged with the responsibility to uphold the protection of the citizens of Australia to now stand and protect Julian Assange by initiating contact with your counterparts in the USA and Britain and demand no extradition,” she said.
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