Malaysia court sentences Australian woman to death for drug-trafficking

Prosecutors had sought the appeals court conviction, which overturned the earlier acquittal of Maria Exposto, 54, of charges of smuggling the drugs in a backpack in Dec. 2014. (Reuters)
Updated 24 May 2018
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Malaysia court sentences Australian woman to death for drug-trafficking

  • Tania Scivetti, a lawyer representing Exposto, who hails from Sydney, said her team had filed an appeal in a federal court
  • Malaysia, like other countries in Southeast Asia, imposes harsh penalties for drug offenses

KUALA LUMPUR: A Malaysian court on Thursday sentenced to death by hanging an Australian mother of three, for trafficking more than a kilogram of crystal methamphetamine into the Southeast Asian nation, but her lawyer said she was appealing.
Prosecutors had sought the appeals court conviction, which overturned the earlier acquittal of Maria Exposto, 54, of charges of smuggling the drugs in a backpack in Dec. 2014, after she said she was duped in an online scam.
Tania Scivetti, a lawyer representing Exposto, who hails from Sydney, said her team had filed an appeal in a federal court.
“We are extremely disappointed,” Scivetti told Reuters by text message. “Maria is a victim of an Internet romance scam. She is not a drug trafficker.”
Exposto, arrested in Kuala Lumpur while in transit to Melbourne from Shanghai, has said she was decoyed into carrying the bag with the drugs by a friend of her online boyfriend, who claimed to be a US soldier serving in Afghanistan.
Malaysia, like other countries in Southeast Asia, imposes harsh penalties for drug offenses. Late last year, parliament voted to remove the death penalty as mandatory punishment for drug trafficking, and leave it to judges’ discretion instead.
Malaysia has executed three Australian nationals for drug trafficking in the past 30 years, leading to brief strains in diplomatic ties between the two countries. 


Amid wall debate, pope visits Panama with migration in mind

Updated 23 January 2019
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Amid wall debate, pope visits Panama with migration in mind

  • The pope is expected to urge young people to create their own opportunities
  • Francis’ trip, the first in a year packed with foreign travel, comes at a critical moment in the papacy

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis is looking to leave the sex abuse scandal buffeting his papacy behind as he heads to Central America amid a standoff over President Donald Trump’s promised wall at the US-Mexico border and a new caravan of migrants heading north.
History’s first Latin American pope, the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, has made the plight of migrants and refugees a cornerstone of his papacy. He is also expected to offer words of encouragement to young people gathered in Panama for World Youth Day, the church’s once-every-three-year pep rally that aims to invigorate the next generation of Catholics in their faith.
Panama Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa said Francis’ message is likely to resonate with young Central Americans who see their only future free of violence and poverty in migrating to the US — “young people who often fall into the hands of drug traffickers and so many other realities that our young people face.”
The pope is expected to urge young people to create their own opportunities, while calling on governments do their share as well.
The visit is taking place as the US government remains partly shut down in a standoff between the Trump administration and Democrats over funding for Trump’s promised border wall.
Francis famously has called for “bridges, not walls.” After celebrating Mass in 2016 on the Mexican side of the US border, he denounced anyone who wants to build a wall to keep out migrants as “not Christian.”
Crowds are expected to be smaller than usual for this World Youth Day — only about 150,000 people had registered as of last week — but thousands more will certainly throng Francis’ main events, which include a vigil and a final Mass on Sunday. The Vatican conceded that the January date doesn’t suit school vacations in Europe or North America, both of which typically send huge numbers of pilgrims to World Youth Day gatherings.
Francis’ trip, the first in a year packed with foreign travel, comes at a critical moment in the papacy as the Catholic hierarchy globally is facing a crisis in credibility for covering up decades of cases of priests molesting young people.
The pope is expected to soon rule on the fate of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the high-powered US archbishop accused of molesting minors and adults. And he is hosting church leaders at the Vatican next month on trying to chart a way forward for the global church.
Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said there were no plans for Francis to meet with abuse survivors in Panama. Central America hasn’t yet seen the explosion of sex abuse cases that have shattered trust in the Catholic hierarchy in Chile, the US and other parts of the world.
This is the first papal visit to Panama since St. John Paul II was there during a 1983 regional tour that famously included an unscheduled stop at the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador. Romero had been gunned down by right-wing death squads three years earlier, at the start of El Salvador’s civil war, for having spoken out on behalf of the poor.
Salvadoran bishops had hoped Francis would follow suit and make a stop in El Salvador this time to pay his respects at Romero’s tomb since Francis canonized him in October. But the Vatican said a Salvador leg was never really in the cards.
Nevertheless, Gisotti said Romero would likely loom large at the Panama gathering, given he is such a point of reference for young Central American Catholics who grew up learning about his defense of the poor.
The Panama visit is also the first by a pope since the Vatican embassy played a crucial role during the 1989 US invasion of Panama, when dictator Manuel Noriega took refuge there and requested asylum on Christmas Eve after four days on the run trying to escape US troops.
Noriega eventually surrendered, bringing to an end one of the more unusual US military operations: It involved US troops blasting heavy metal and rock music — including Van Halen’s “Panama” — at the embassy to try to force Noriega out.
Noriega, a onetime US ally, eventually served a 17-year drug sentence in the United States. He died in 2017 after his final years were spent in a Panamanian prison for the murder of political opponents during his 1983-89 regime.