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Criminal Justice Systems Abroad

You’ve decided to travel or work abroad- a choice that will surely change your life. To be sure that this change is for the better, it is beneficial to be prepared for the ways your destinations will differ from your hometown. Besides the exciting cultural differences in cuisine, social norms, and traditional customs, there are other vital differences for which a traveler must be prepared. Among these are differences in the legal system.

Especially if you are coming from a Western country, you may find yourself faced with unfamiliar approaches to criminal justice. There are many stories of people being jailed or deported for activities that are not punishable or would only merit a small fine in their home country. This could be a minor altercation at a bar, an under-the-table job on the side, consumption of drugs, or public protest against the national government.

For example, this past year activists have been speaking out against the treatment of an American football player who was teaching football and English in China. He was involved in a bar fight and was jailed, waiting two years for the conviction that recently came through: A 4-year prison sentence. This was despite video evidence presented in court, said to demonstrate that he was defending himself and didn’t cause any injury. Many have pointed to preferential treatment of locals over foreigners, as well as widespread racism against those with darker skin. His story is linked in the accompanying image from

In all countries, the local culture strongly influences the legal system. In 2015, a group of tourists climbed Mount Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo. Upon reaching the summit they celebrated by taking off their clothes, later posting images on social media. As the indigenous revere this mountain as a resting place for spirits, many were outraged. Days later, there was a massive earthquake on the site, causing landslides and killing nearly twenty people. Many claimed the tourists had angered the spirits and brought about the deadly quake, and several of the tourists were arrested and fined.

Research the laws of your destination country and be very thoughtful about any activity which feels like it might be risky or offensive. Avoid scenarios that could get you into situations out of your control. Most people travel without any trouble, and leave with their perspectives expanded and their lives enriched. Be informed and cautious, keep on the right side of the law, and keep the prison block off of your travel itinerary.

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