Last week, Australian man Jock Palfreeman was released from a Bulgarian prison after being incarcerated for 8 years and 11 months for the murder of a local law student in 2007. Palfreeman has consistently protested his innocence, his legal team unsuccessfully arguing at his trial that the fatal incident occurred after he ran to the assistance of a local man being attacked by more than 12 men, and that he subsequently acted in self-defence when the group turned on him. However, since being released on parole, he has remained in custody at a Busmantsi Detention Centre, awaiting authorisation to return to Australia. Now Bulgarian Prosecutors are reportedly seeking to have his parole revoked, meaning his ordeal may not be over.

Rakim Mayers, more commonly known by hip-hop fans as A$AP Rocky, likewise landed himself in hot water in July 2019 after he was arrested and held without bail in Stockholm, Sweden, for an alleged assault occasioning bodily harm on two local men while he was in the country on a musical tour. Although A$AP managed to capture the majority of the incident on video which he subsequently uploaded to Instagram, apparently depicting the rapper and his entourage being repeatedly stalked, harassed and assaulted by the two locals, Swedish prosecutors rejected his claim that he acted in self-defence.

Even a series of supportive tweets by none other than U.S. President Donald Trump was not enough to convince Swedish authorities to release A$AP on bail, with the country’s then Prime Minister Carl Bildt re-tweeting firmly ‘the rule of the law applies to everyone equally and is exercised by an independent judiciary.” A$AP was eventually released on bail the following month, pending verdict in his four-day trial, but he was ultimately found guilty of the charge, and received a suspended sentence, coupled with an order requiring him to pay restitution to the victims.

Whilst the matter could have ended much worse for the Harlem rapper, it serves as a harsh reminder to all naive tourists of the dangers and difficulties associated with navigating what can sometimes be very different and foreign criminal justice processes in overseas countries. A sad and sorry list of high profile examples, from the hapless Schapelle Corby to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, all-too-vividly demonstrate the point. So anyone who finds themselves questioned, detained, or arrested by police overseas should keep a a couple of golden rules firmly in mind.

First and foremost, of course, do your homework. Every country has it’s own unique set of laws and rules, and visitors have to comply, just like everyone else. Whilst it may be considered perfectly acceptable in Australia to sledge the Windsors as you sit through yet another royal wedding on television, in Thailand, for example, defaming, insulting or threatening the King is punishable by upwards of 15 years imprisonment. Likewise, while in Queensland first-time offenders convicted of minor drug possession may receive little more than a slap on the wrist, in places like Bali, they’re more likely to cop significant fines and/or terms of imprisonment. So familiarising yourself with the laws of the country you intend to visit is a very good way to stay out of serious trouble.

If you still find yourself in hot water, contact the Australian Embassy immediately. Embassy officials can and will visit you in custody on short notice, and provide you with preliminary advice as to local laws, customs and social conventions. They can notify family members of your arrest, and provide you with the contact details of a reputable and respected local lawyer, hopefully an English-speaking one.

Then, last but not least, in the inimitable words of Aussie band The Cruel Sea – “Better get a lawyer, son, better get a real good one.”

Alex Somers, Criminal Lawyer, Queensland

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