A suspect in a crime she says she did not commit, UC Berkeley alumna Stacey Addison is confined to East Timor for up to a year.
Addison, a 40-year-old veterinarian, was arrested more than one month ago for alleged drug trafficking. She spent four nights in jail, but prosecutors have not charged or formally questioned her since the detention. Authorities told her she must remain in the country for the duration of the investigation.
“After the investigation they will decide whether or not to press formal charges against me,” Addison said in an email. “The investigation is secret so I am not allowed to know any details.”
Halfway around the world, worried family and friends watched her story unfold through social media and emails. “Please do not forget I am here,” Addison wrote Oct. 2 on a Facebook page her friends created. Per the rules of her conditional liberty, she hasn’t left East Timor.
“It’s a scary situation,” said Bernadette Kero, Addison’s mother, over the weekend. “We do everything we can to get it resolved. Today, I’m writing different letters to state department officials, our representatives — basically anyone I can think of.”
In January 2013, Addison left her job and sold her house, car and furniture in Portland, Oregon, to finance a trip around the world. Since leaving, she has traveled through South America, Central America and Asia, volunteering as a vet in Peru and Ecuador.
Her troubles didn’t begin until last month, on the morning of Sept. 5, in West Timor — the Indonesian half of the Southeast Asian island. Her Indonesian visa was set to expire the following day, and she had to leave the country to avoid potentially hefty fines.
Addison traveled by motorcycle taxi from Atambua, West Timor, to the border of East Timor, an independent country on the same island. She passed through immigration without a problem and walked across the border at 10 a.m. Indonesian time.
In the 200-meter expanse between Indonesian and Timorese immigration buildings was a vehicle Addison believed to be a kijang: a taxi shared by multiple riders. She approached a man standing outside the SUV, who asked her if she was traveling to Dili, the capital of East Timor and her exact destination. She paid the driver, another man, $10.
During the three-hour drive to the capital, Addison could hardly communicate with the two men due to a language barrier. At one point in the afternoon, they pulled over so that the male passenger could stop at a DHL shipping office. While Addison and the driver waited in the car, a package was placed in the back of the vehicle.
Minutes after they left, police officers pulled them over, acting on a tip that the package contained drugs. Addison was later told that it carried methamphetamines.
“Initially I wasn’t very concerned because I knew I had done nothing wrong,” she said in an email. “I did not know the package contained drugs at that time. I was initially told I was being searched because I had come from Indonesia.”
Drug trafficking and smuggling in the area are common, given “porous” borders between islands, according to Sylvia Tiwon, a UC Berkeley associate professor and expert on Southeast Asia.
At the police station, Addison’s belongings were searched and personal medications tested. She produced a urine sample, and her clothes were stripped. An investigation chief told her that none of the tests nor searches indicated drug use or trafficking.
Authorities eventually drove her to a hotel, but fewer than two hours later, officers came to her door and told her to gather her belongings. She was under arrest.
A YouTube video showed Addison under a pink sarong, being escorted back to jail after an initial hearing Sept. 8.
For four nights, Addison was jailed in a cell with about 10 other women who all slept on the floor with blankets and were provided three meals a day. On Facebook, Addison later described the experience as one that shook her sense of safety.
“It is not the living conditions that made going to jail the worst experience of my life,” she wrote. “It is the fear, the uncertainty, the lack of control of your life. It is the sound the door makes when you are locked in a cage for the first time … It is having to face the fact that there is a very real possibility that you might spend the rest of your life in jail for sharing a taxi.”
When Addison’s close friends and UC Berkeley alumnae Suma Peesapati and Cristy Fajardo heard the news, they were in disbelief.
“I know her, and I know she would never be involved in anything like that,” said Fajardo, a journalist with CBS Los Angeles. “There’s no evidence against her, so we’re all hoping it will be resolved quickly.”
On Sept. 9, a judge ruled to release Addison from jail on conditional liberty. Her passport was taken away, and she must now remain in the country for up to a year as the investigation proceeds.
Although a representative from the U.S. embassy regularly contacts Addison, U.S. officials cannot interfere with a foreign investigation. Last week, the attorney Addison hired filed a court petition for her case to be closed and her passport returned.
Addison, who had no set return date before her ordeal, had planned on meeting up with Peesapati in Myanmar. But considering everything that has happened, Peesapati said she would understand if Addison wanted to go home.
Until then, Addison will await liberty from a hostel, where she writes letters to officials and updates her support circle through unreliable Internet connection.
“She’s smart and willing and cooperative,” her mother said. “Nov. 5 is Stacey’s birthday. I hope she is not going to spend it detained.”