Australian drug trafficker Schapelle Corby was granted parole by Indonesian authorities on Friday as mobs of journalists camped outside her Bali prison and a bidding war heated up for her first post-jail interview.
Justice Minister Amir Syamsuddin announced that Corby, whose case has attracted huge public sympathy and media attention in Australia, was among a batch of prisoners whose parole applications had been finalised.
The justice ministry added in a statement that “Corby has been approved to receive parole” as she had fulfilled the requirements as set out in the law.
Syamsuddin refused to comment when asked when Corby, who was arrested at the airport on the resort island of Bali with marijuana stashed in her surfing gear in 2004, might walk out of prison.
However, it is expected to be in the coming days once she has completed some final administrative steps.
As anticipation built in recent days that her release was imminent, hordes of Australian media flocked to Bali. A crowd of some 60 reporters, camera crew and photographers were outside the prison on Friday.
Channel Seven has reportedly sent the biggest crew to Bali, with 17 staff dispatched from Australia and another seven locals on board.
Her sister Mercedes, with whom Corby will live on Bali, arrived in the morning on a motorbike and had to fight her way through the scrum.
Multi-million dollar book deal?
A media bidding war is reportedly in full swing in Australia that could see Corby earn millions of dollars for her tell-all story if she is released.
There have been claims that the bidders would pay as much as A$3 million (US$2.7 million), although The Australian broadsheet said informed sources had told it that a more realistic price would be A$1 million.
Corby has rarely spoken to media during her time in Kerobokan, reportedly holding out for a lucrative interview on her release.
The 36-year-old will not be able to return to Australia until 2017, however. Her sentence ends in 2016 and then she must stay for another year to comply with the conditions of her parole.
During this period, she will live on the resort island with her sister.
Corby, who has always insisted that the 4.1 kilos of marijuana found in her body board bag were planted, will emerge a changed woman after years in Bali’s Kerobokan prison.
Prisoners often live side by side in overcrowded cells, and drug abuse, fighting between prisoners and beatings by jail wardens are reportedly common.
She has suffered from mental health problems in prison and needed hospital treatment for depression.
Corby was convicted and jailed for 20 years in 2005.
The end of her sentence was brought forward to 2016 after she received several remissions for good behaviour, and a five-year cut following an appeal for clemency to the Indonesian president.
Her parole bid was a complex, months-long process which repeatedly ran into bureaucratic hurdles. The process sped up in the past week when a justice ministry parole board in Jakarta finally heard her case.
Her application included letters of support from the Australian government, as well as her family, the Balinese village head where she will live and the Kerobokan prison warden.
But while many in Australia support her early release, some in Indonesia have spoken out against it. Eight lawmakers on Thursday handed a letter of protest to Syamsuddin voicing opposition.
They said a decision to grant her early release would run counter to Jakarta’s tough anti-drugs laws and would be inappropriate at a time when Australia-Indonesia ties were at a low after a row over spying.
In prison Corby lived alongside other foreigners sentenced under Indonesia’s tough anti-narcotics laws, from people caught with small quantities of drugs at parties to those attempting to smuggle huge stashes into the hard-partying island.
Members of Australian heroin-smuggling gang the “Bali Nine”, including two who are on death row, are also incarcerated in Kerobokan.