Alleged drug mule Sharon Armstrong pleads not guilty
Sharon Armstrong loves New Zealand but doesn't feel that Kiwis love her back as she sits in her Buenos Aires jail cell awaiting trial on drug trafficking charges.
The former Maori Language Commission deputy chief executive, arrested in Argentina in April with more than 5kg of cocaine in her luggage, has pleaded not guilty for the crime, claiming she was fooled by a fictitious internet lover.
A former Maori Commission colleague, Haami Piripi, said his good friend was a "strong woman" and was holding up well emotionally but was feeling very alone in the cell she shares with 17 others.
"I can't say she feels she's got New Zealand behind her," Mr Piripi told NZ Newswire.
"In fact, she'll be feeling very much on her own trying to cope with this very tough situation."
Armstrong, aged in her mid 50s, claims she was tricked into smuggling drugs by a man she started dating online just a few months earlier.
She says she was just a "silly old lady" who did not heed family warnings she could be part of an elaborate drug scam.
Initial reports she was carrying four driver's licences at the time cast doubt on her story but has since been explained by her travel history.
Mr Piripi said advisers warned her to plead guilty, as "with her circumstances and mitigating factors she might get three years".
"But she just could not plead guilty, she couldn't, which means she's looking at two to three years waiting for a trial and absolutely no leniency if convicted," he said.
"I think she's probably starting to rue that decision now because how can you conduct a fair trial in a country you can't even speak the language of?"
He said supporters were trying to remain positive.
But as Christmas approached, he knew she'd be doing it tougher.
"She's a huge family person. To not be with her loved ones (at Christmas), that will hurt."