Drug mule Schapelle Corby: an Australian obsession

JAKARTA - The story of Schapelle Corby, the Australian woman jailed in a notorious Indonesian prison for a crime she says she did not commit, has fascinated the public in her home country like few others in recent times.

The dramatic courtroom scenes of Corby breaking down in tears as she was convicted and her sister, Mercedes, screaming from the sidelines were watched live by millions of Australians, and were the start of a national obsession with the beauty school dropout.

As she left jail on the resort island of Bali Monday on parole after more than nine years behind bars, scores of camera crews and photographers, many of whom had flown from Australia especially for her release, fought to get a shot of her.

The media circus does not look like slowing down any time soon - a bidding war is reportedly in full swing back home in Australia for her first post-jail interview.

The Australian media have carefully tracked every development in the case of Corby, arrested in 2004 with 4.1 kilograms (nine pounds) of marijuana hidden in her surfing gear as she arrived on Bali.

From the sordid conditions in Kerobokan jail - where prisoners live in cramped, filthy cells and drug abuse is widespread - to her descent into mental illness, TV channels and newspapers back home lapped up every detail.

Every aspect of her past life has been documented, from her dropping out of beauty school to working in her family's fish-and-chip shop and spending time in Japan, where she lived with her Japanese husband before their relationship broke down.

Mercedes Corby told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in a 2012 interview that her sister's case had "struck a chord" as she seemed like any normal Australian going on holiday to Bali only to get caught up in a nightmare.

"A lot of people come to Bali and a lot of people love Bali, I just think it was a bit of a shock," she told the ABC.

"She could have been your sister, your daughter, your friend just going on holiday, and this is what happened."

Protesting her innocence

Despite her conviction and sentencing to 20 years in jail, Corby is routinely portrayed as a victim of a drugs syndicate and Indonesia's notoriously corrupt justice system.

She has fuelled this perception, steadfastly maintaining her innocence since day one, claiming that the drugs were planted inside her body board bag.

"When I flew to Bali on 8 October 2004, I imagined my biggest problem was going to be deciding which sarong to wear with which bikini," Corby wrote in her 2006 autobiography "My Story", co-authored with Australian journalist Kathryn Bonella.

While other Australians have been jailed on the resort island for drugs offences - notably members of the heroin-smuggling gang known as the "Bali Nine" - none has attracted the same attention as Corby.

Her good looks, her relative youth - she was jailed at the age of 27 - and appearance of naivety have all added to the image of her as a victim.

The question of her guilt has been pored over by the Australian media during the past decade and the closely-watched case has spawned a string of conspiracy theories, some pointing to her guilt and others to her innocence.

Despite the widespread sympathy back home, the view in Indonesia is starkly different, where many see Corby as a common criminal who simply broke the country's tough anti-drugs laws.

Indonesian lawmakers and an anti-drugs group have strongly criticised the decision to grant her parole, which was taken by Justice Minister Amir Syamsuddin on Friday.

Her well-documented mental health problems - she spent time in hospital in Bali to be treated for depression - were used to support her plea for presidential clemency, which reduced her sentence by five years.

She also received regular remissions for good behaviour which is a routine procedure under the Indonesian justice system.

Her jail term now officially comes to an end in 2016, although she will have to stay in Indonesia a further year to comply with her parole conditions.

In recent years, she appeared to be in a better state of mental health and was occasionally spotted at the prison in good spirits.

After her release, she is expected to live with Mercedes and her Balinese husband in their modest home in a backstreet in Kuta, a tourist district in south Bali visited by throngs of Australians every year.