Courts Lets Smuggling Case Teens in Australia Walk Free

The Jakarta Globe
Courts Lets Smuggling Case Teens in Australia Walk Free

An Australian court has dropped charges against three Indonesian teenagers accused of people smuggling after being arrested in Australian waters, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Jakarta said on Friday.

“The prosecutor decided not to pursue the case against them after their lawyers presented evidence such as their school diplomas and birth certificates to prove that they are indeed minors,” Michael Tene said.

The Brisbane Magistrates Court dismissed all charges against Ose Lani, 15, Ako Lani, 16, and John Ndollu, 17. The three were arrested in January of last year during a raid on a boat carrying Afghan and Iranian asylum seekers to Australia. They were facing up to five years in prison.

The three were held at a detention center for asylum seekers before being transferred to a high-security prison for adults in Brisbane. They were released two weeks ago and put up by a local welfare agency.

The teenagers are now free to return to their homes in East Nusa Tenggara. The Indonesian Consulate in Sydney is in talks with Queensland immigration officials to arrange for the minors’ repatriation to the village of Manamolo on Rote Island.

“We expect to fly them home as soon as possible,” Michael said.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the charges against the three were dropped just hours after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard to discuss the issue.

A defendant is considered a minor until 18 years of age in Australian courts. Australian regulations stipulate that illegal aliens believed to have committed a crime can be sent home without being tried in court.

There are currently 29 cases where Indonesian minors are being detained in Australia, Michael said.

News of the arrests prompted criticism from nongovernmental organizations like the Human Rights Working Group, which accused the Australian government of violating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The convention states that minors should only be imprisoned as a last resort, and then, only for a short period of time.

“We urge the Australian government to uphold the international practice in accordance with the child rights convention by releasing them from any immigration detention facility [or prison],” the HRWG said in a statement.

Nur Cholis, the deputy chairman of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), hailed the Brisbane court’s decision to release the three minors.

Ismira Lutfia & Elisabeth Oktofani

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