Did Australian authorities allow 'people smuggler' to go free?



On April 25, Abu Quassey was deported from Indonesia to Egypt. Quassey had admitted his responsibility for helping to organise the fatal SIEV-X voyage, in which 353 asylum seekers died on October 19, 2001, while trying to reach Australia.

Egypt's ambassador to Indonesia, Ezzar Saad el Sayed, said Abu Quassey, whose real name is Mootaz Muhammad Husan, had been escorted to Egypt and jailed. It is not yet clear whether Egypt has laws under which Quassey could be prosecuted.

With no law against "people smuggling" in Indonesia, Quassey was convicted of visa offences, for which he had served six months in jail. He was released on January 1, then held for a further four months in an immigration detention centre while Australia, Indonesia and Egypt contested the right to detain him.

The Australian government issued four warrants, covering 75 people-smuggling offences alleged to have been committed by Quassey. While people smuggling is not a crime in Indonesia, manslaughter is — but at no stage did the Australian authorities issue a warrant against Quassey for manslaughter.

On December 30, two days before Quassey's release from jail, Australia's justice minister Chris Ellison declared that Quassey was a major fugitive and was on Australia's most-wanted list. "We will chase him and there will be no relenting in that pursuit, no matter where he goes or how long he lives", reported the December 31 Canberra Times.

Implausibly, the Australian Federal Police claimed that it didn't know Quassey had left Indonesia on April 25, and therefore did not alert international police agencies so that he could be arrested on an Interpol arrest warrant, as the AFP said it would do.

Former Australian diplomat Tony Kevin, who has been persistently campaigning for a full investigation into the SIEV-X sinking, claimed on April 26: "Abu Quassey was a witting or unwitting people-smuggling disruption program sting agent, well-known to the Australian authorities, they greatly feared any prospect of him standing trial in Australia over the sinking of SIEV-X, and did everything possible to prevent this from happening."

Over the past two years, Australian agencies have helped organise sophisticated sting operations in Indonesia to disrupt and dismantle people-smuggling syndicates. There is a strong indication that these operations have involved the sabotage of boats. Kevin argues that SIEV-X was sabotaged by being deliberately overloaded: 421 people were herded aboard the 19.5-metre boat. It was intended to sink as a warning to other would-be smugglers and asylum seekers.

While it will be a grave injustice if Quassey walks free, for many it will be no surprise.

From Green Left Weekly, May 14, 2003.
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