We are not sure what happened to Stephen or how he ended up in Argentina. This is what we do know.
Stephen was working in a factory in Sydney. He met a Peruvian girl who befriended him, we think through his work. A relationship may have developed.
We then discovered that Stephen was in Peru and living with the Peruvian girl and her family. Stephen wrote to us saying that her family were being very kind and treating him well. We don't know if this was a genuine relationship or Stephen was targeted to become a drug mule.
Stephen was arrested in a hotel room, without any drugs. We think this happened in Buenos Aires although DFAT have never told the family the exact details. Stephen has always maintained he knew nothing about carrying any drugs. He says he was asked to deliver some gold.
At this stage, his life and the lives of his family in Australia had been threatened. He was obviously very scared that we were going to be harmed.
We learned Stephen was arrested in Argentina on a drugs charge through a programme on the local news. We still do not know what happened to the Peruvian girl or whether she was involved.
Stephen was convicted of drug smuggling and sentenced to 11 years in prison. There is an appeal in 6 months.
DFAT informed Stephen's family in Australia of the trial just weeks before it began. They spelt the name of the Argentinean lawyer incorrectly and gave no contact details. Because of the incorrect spelling, it took 5 days to trace the attorney. By this time, the trial had started and it was too late for the family to compile evidence for his defence.
In 2003, Stephen was surviving on one meal a day and was malnourished. He was very ill. When his original lawyer visited him, the translator was so horrified at his condition that she called a doctor. Stephen was crippled and bent double in intense pain. This was due to a back injury that had happened prior to incarceration but had been left without treatment in the prison.
6 weeks before the trial, his sister Ann wrote to DFAT to ask how Stephen was. Ann was told 'happy and okay,' but after the trial, she found out he had been hospitalised during that time with a serious chest infection.
Stephen is contactable, though it is very difficult. Contacts are available only only through an Argentinean volunteer who lives a 3 hour bus ride from the prison. She has only managed to visit once because of problems with authorisation from the Australian Consulate in Argentina.
By Kate Gibbons firstname.lastname@example.org posted 26 September 05
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