Human rights activists held a silent protest outside the Australian Embassy on Monday to demand justice for Indonesian minors currently incarcerated in Australia.
Febi Yonesta, from the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta), said most of the underage prisoners came from impoverished fishing communities and were less than 15 years old. They were not aware of the risk of transporting illegal immigrants into Australia, he said.
“Dozens of them are currently being detained in adult prisons for allegedly being involved in people-smuggling syndicates,” Febi said.
“Fishing doesn’t pay enough, but working with people-smuggling syndicates offers far more money.”
He added that the problem was compounded for fishing communities in East Nusa Tenggara when an oil spill in the Timor Sea in mid-2009 spread over much of their fishing grounds and impacted their catches.
Eko Waluyo, from the organization Indonesian Solidarity, said it was unfair that the minors continued to be held in adult facilities while Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and Prime Minister Julia Gillard could insist on the release of a 14-year-old Australian boy currently detained in Bali for drug possession.
“There is not one but rather more than 70 Indonesian youths, 15 years or younger, in Australian adult prisons or detention centers for working on boats carrying refugees in transit from Indonesia to Australia,” he said.
The Australian boy was moved out of Kerobokan prison in Denpasar on Saturday to a facility in Jimbaran, built specifically for foreigners, after newly appointed Justice and Human Rights Minister Amir Syamsuddin declared Kerobokan overcrowded and inhumane for underage inmates — despite the fact it also held nine Indonesian children.
Another official reiterated the fact that other underage inmates had to stay in Kerobokan since Bali did not yet have a good juvenile prison.
Abdul Kadir Wokanubun, advocacy and campaign director at the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI), decried the people-smuggling charges leveled against the Indonesian youths in Australia, which could see them face a maximum of 15 years in prison and fined the equivalent of Rp 1.5 billion ($170,000).
He added that the Australian Embassy had not provided activists with information on what it planned to do with the youths, nor had there been any action from the Indonesian government.
“Australian officials handling the youths are not convinced that they are underage,” Febi said. “The lack of official documents was used as a basis for the Australian government to put them in adult facilities.”
He added that a team of lawyers from Australia would visit Indonesia next month to gather the documents needed to prove the youths’ ages.
He said they came from as far afield as East and West Java, East and West Nusa Tenggara and South Sulawesi.
Additional reporting by Ulma Haryanto