Film goes behind "Ganja Queen" travel nightmare

NEW YORK Sat Jun 28, 2008 8:29am EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Schapelle Corby is living every traveler's worst nightmare -- convicted in 2005 of smuggling marijuana into Indonesia, the 30-year-old Australian is serving a 20-year sentence in a cramped prison.

Now a film to be shown on U.S. television on Monday goes behind the scenes at the dramatic trial that gripped Australia, initially strained ties between the neighboring countries and left people asking: "Did she really do it?"

"Australians became so besotted with the case," said Janine Hosking, who made the documentary "Ganja Queen" set to air on cable channel HBO. "She doesn't look like how we would imagine a drug trafficker to look; she looks like the girl next door."

"People will speculate forever on this case," Hosking told Reuters. She began filming shortly before the trial began -- after Corby had already spent five months behind bars in a country that imposes the death penalty on drug traffickers.

"Ganja Queen" shows footage shot by Corby with a camera she smuggled into her small jail cell, secret interviews with her during visits to the jail, and shots of her family and defense team, including discussions about whether to try and use bribery to secure her release.

Indonesia regularly ranks among the world's most corrupt countries, a problem its government is trying to overcome.

"Bribery is probably relevant for very low-profile cases that you can make the thing go away, but with Schapelle's there was so much scrutiny that the case became very transparent because there was media absolutely everywhere," Hosking said.

"The media thing has worked against her although it has made her a star," she said. The verdict and sentencing in the case was broadcast live in Australia and Indonesia.

Corby had traveled to Bali with her brother and friends in 2004 for a two-week holiday to visit her sister Mercedes.

Fringed with idyllic beaches and catering to all types with luxury resorts as well as cheap hostels for young backpackers and surfers, the island is a favorite holiday destination for thousands of Australians.

She checked her bags in Brisbane, then flew to Sydney and on to Bali, where she collected her luggage. When asked by a customs officer to open her bodyboard bag, she did, revealing a plastic bag containing 4.1 kilograms (9 pounds) of marijuana.

LEGAL DILEMMA

Within hours of her arrest, video footage and photos of Corby and the bag of drugs were circulating in Indonesian media, who dubbed her the "Ganja Queen." Ganja is a common Indonesian term for marijuana.

Corby says she did not know the drugs were there, but Hosking said that rather than the onus being on the prosecution to prove Corby was guilty, under Indonesian law, she was required to show who was responsible to prove her innocence.

"That seemed to be an absolute impossibility for Schapelle to prove," Hosking said. "Everyone's hearts went out to her regardless of whether they thought she was innocent or guilty -- this helpless victim at the center of this legal system."

"It is a harrowing story and I think it really shows in a very close up and personal way just how awful it can be if you are caught up in a different legal system ... and to be under the scrutiny of the media spotlight," she said.

Corby's defense claimed the drugs were planted in her unlocked bag by corrupt Australian airport baggage handlers as part of a smuggling ring gone wrong. But the Australian media also raised questions about whether family members were involved, a suggestion they have denied.

In 2005, Australian newspaper polls showed 90 percent of Australians believed Corby was innocent. A Sky Australia television poll found 36 percent of people thought her sentence was too harsh and 56 percent labeled it an injustice.

"When you get to know Schapelle (in the film), it's gripping and I don't think it matters where she comes from -- whether she's an Australian, or an American or British or whatever," Hosking said. "It could (happen to anyone)."

Corby's final appeal was rejected in March, sending her into a depression that saw her admitted to hospital last week. While Australia and Indonesia are negotiating a prisoner swap deal for Corby, she has said she does not want to return home to serve her sentence.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

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